NASA, Google and university researchers get access to new quantum computer, as NASA tackles complex problems ranging from air traffic to robotics.
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NASA's Ames Research Laboratory, in collaboration with Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), has announced plans to host a 512-quantum-bit (qubit), quantum computer at its new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab.
Under terms of the agreement, USRA, a nonprofit research organization, will operate the computer at the Ames facility. Twenty percent of the system's time will be allocated to universities via a competitive selection process.
The computer system selected for the facility is D-Wave Systems' D-Wave Two. Quantum computing combines the principles of quantum physics, where a bit of matter can exist in two states, with supercomputing processes that manipulate billions of bits of data. A bit can be 0, 1 or both, allowing the computer to test all possible solutions simultaneously.
NASA's interest in quantum computing lies in trying to solve extremely complex problems in areas such as optimizing air traffic control, navigation and communication, and robotics.
Google views quantum computing as having potential to solve high-level computer science problems, especially in the area of machine learning.
"Machine learning is all about building better models of the world to make more accurate predictions," wrote Hartmut Neven, director of engineering at Google Research, in a blog post. "If we want to cure diseases, we need better models of how they develop. If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what's happening to our climate. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what's on the Web so you get the best answer."
Installation of the D-Wave Two is underway. A NASA spokeswoman said that work and calibration of the computer are expected to be completed in the fall.
D-Wave Systems, which recently opened an office in Palo Alto, Calif., announced in October that it had secured $30 million in equity funding from investors that included Bezos Expeditions and In-Q-Tel. At the time, In-Q-Tel VP Robert Ames said that quantum computing holds promise for intelligence agencies and called the investment in D-Wave "a first step in that direction."
Lockheed Martin, which uses D-Wave's 128-qubit D-Wave One system, purchased an upgrade to the D-Wave Two earlier this year.