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Christian Weedbrook, founder of the quantum technologies company, Xanadu, listens in as Varun Vaidya, left, demonstrates the working principle of one of the building blocks of quantum computers, at their office in Toronto on June 20, 2019.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

A Toronto startup attempting to build the world’s most powerful computer by using the quantum properties of light is aiming to raise about US$100-million next year after launching online customer access to its technology Wednesday.

Four-year-old Xanadu Quantum Technologies Inc. believes it will become one of the leaders in a global quantum computing race that includes Google, Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., IBM Corp. and Canada’s D-Wave Systems Inc.

Xanadu has raised $41-million from Canadian venture capital firms OMERS Ventures, Georgian Partners, Radical Ventures and Real Ventures, as well as U.S. billionaire Tim Draper. Chief executive Christian Weedbrook and his backers say the company can raise a nine-figure amount after Silicon Valley-based PsiQuantum Ltd., another quantum computer startup, raised US$215-million in April.

Xanadu and its rivals are trying to build machines that can vastly outperform existing supercomputers by harnessing the power of subatomic particles to perform calculations that would take the world’s most powerful computers millenniums to run. The quantum computer Google is developing, for example, was able to perform a single calculation in minutes that would take a supercomputer 10,000 years – however, it was designed to only solve that one problem.

Industry players say these computers will be able to offer powerful new ways to help with drug discovery, materials science, financial risk modelling and other applications.

But quantum computers are still in the early days of development and customers have been primarily limited to U.S. government labs, startups and researchers and giant companies with physicists on staff able to tinker with the technology, submitting problems over the internet for the machines to solve. Burnaby, B.C.-based D-Wave’s cloud customers have used its technology to model how to evacuate people during tsunamis, optimize urban traffic flows and design drugs.

However, none have yet shown they can outperform conventional supercomputers on a commercial scale.

Many quantum computers require shed-sized chambers where specialized chips are cooled to just more than the coldest possible temperature – -273.15 C – to produce the quantum effects needed to unleash their computing power.

But Xanadu, like PsiQuantum, takes a different approach. Xanadu uses a process called “squeezing light” by firing lasers that enable light particles to generate quantum effects on a thumbnail-sized chip. The method, based on Mr. Weedbrook’s PhD thesis at Australia’s University of Queensland, happens at room temperature.

Xanadu says its process, which cuts out supercooling for part of the process, is already quicker and cheaper to develop than other quantum computers; if it can avoid supercooling altogether – which may take years of further development – it could shrink its chips enough that they could fit in computers and smartphones.

That’s something Google and IBM or D-Wave can’t do with their approach. “Ultimately, over time both Xanadu and PsiQuantum will be able to miniaturize these chips,” said Simon Chong, managing partner of investor Georgian Partners. “It will be unimaginable if what we’re doing technically keeps going the way we’re going.”

Xanadu’s computing capability is well below the level needed to achieve what is known as quantum supremacy – the ability to outperform supercomputers on a large scale. But Mr. Weedbrook predicts Xanadu will double its power roughly every six months and will hit that threshold within two years.

For now, with the launch of its cloud platform last year, the 58-person company has achieved the goal it promised investors when it raised $32-million in financing last year. “Xanadu is executing on [our] original investment thesis” to be a full-fledged quantum cloud computing company, OMERS Ventures partner Laura Lenz said.

Some of its early clients, including Creative Destruction Lab, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and the U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory have already tested its cloud service, which is being offered to a limited number of customers to start as Xanadu only has three machines available. The startup also offers software tools for developers to work with a range of quantum computers.

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