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Geordie Rose, founder of D-Wave Systems Inc., standing in front of the D-WaveOne Quantum Computer.
Geordie Rose, founder of D-Wave Systems Inc., standing in front of the D-WaveOne Quantum Computer.

Canada Competes

The black box that could change the world Add to ...

From an investment standpoint, the network also brought D-Wave scientific credibility, Dr. Agrawal says. “When investors wanted to do due diligence, they could go and openly talk to researchers in the network.”

Today, D-Wave holds 93 U.S. patents and has 107 patent applications under way globally. Its IP portfolio will make it very difficult for competitors to design a similar machine, at least for 15 years or so, Dr. Rose predicts.

D-Wave’s next challenge is how to build the company in a way that maximizes value, Harris & Harris’s Dr. Andreev says. “I’ve never seen an opportunity with this sort of unlimited upside. Now the question is how to play it properly.”

Quantum Computing 101

A traditional computer processes information as bits that can be a 0 or a 1. A quantum computer exploits the laws of quantum physics by making its bits a 0, a 1, or a 0 and a 1 simultaneously. This “superposition” lets it do many calculations at once, where a traditional computer can only perform one

The most popular approach to building a quantum computer is the circuit or gate model, whose processor architecture resembles that of conventional computers.

D-Wave Systems Inc. uses the relatively new adiabatic model, also known as quantum annealing. This architecture allows its quantum bits, or qubits, to shift from superposition to a traditional computer state.

D-Wave's processor circuitry is made from the metal niobium, which turns into a superconductor at very low temperatures, so the processor is supercooled to just above 0º Kelvin (-273.15° Celsius). The D-Wave processor resides in a cylindrical refrigerator suspended inside a shielded room, with 16 layers protecting it against everything from radio-frequency noise to magnetic disturbances.

The processor consists of qubits connected by couplers; surrounding them is a programmable magnetic memory.

Since demonstrating what it called “the world’s first commercially viable quantum computer” in 2007, D-Wave says it has progressed from a 16-qubit to a 512-qubit processor. While this shows an ability to increase the quantum computing power of the computer, it is not clear yet what real-world applications that kind of processor has.

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