In the next few years, quantum technologies will make it possible to do things that simply cannot be done today – such as look far beneath the ground or under the sea, perform complex computational tasks, like modelling biomolecular and chemical reactions, that the most powerful supercomputers cannot currently manage, send sensitive information safely to anywhere, and diagnose diseases more quickly and accurately by looking inside cells.
In the first quantum revolution of the early twentieth century, scientists learnt to understand and apply the properties of quantum mechanics – the interactions of molecules, atoms, and even smaller particles like photons and electrons. This ultimately allowed them to create transistors, lasers and microprocessors, foundational technologies for computers, telecommunications, satellite navigation, smartphones, modern medical diagnostics, and much more.
Now, the second quantum revolution is underway. Researchers can detect and manipulate individual particles and their physical interlinkages and interactions, and build new technologies and systems that make use of the properties of the underlying quantum mechanics. These developments have led to major technical advances in many different areas, including quantum computing, sensors, simulations, cryptography and telecommunications. A whole generation of new quantum technologies with the potential for far-reaching economic and societal impact is starting to emerge: some are already in development, while many others will be developed in the next few decades.
The Quantum Technologies Flagship
Europe has a long tradition of excellence in quantum research. Now, in the global race to unlock the potential of quantum technologies and bring transformative advances to science, industry and society, it is crucial to develop a solid industrial base that builds on this tradition. Without coordinated research and funding efforts at European level, Europe would risk falling behind its global competitors.
To meet this challenge, the Quantum Technologies Flagship was launched in 2018. It is a large-scale, long-term research initiative funded by the EU that brings together research institutions, industry and public funders, consolidating and expanding European scientific leadership and excellence in this field.
As part of the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU), the Commission is now planning to build by 2023 state-of-the-art pilot quantum computers that would act as accelerators interconnected with the Joint Undertaking’s supercomputers, forming “hybrid” machines that blend the best of quantum and classical computing technologies.
In 2021, work will begin on the Joint Undertaking’s first quantum simulator, which would also be interconnected with a supercomputer. This will be the first element of a European quantum simulation infrastructure available via the cloud on a non-commercial basis to public and private European users. The infrastructure will be used to address complex simulation and optimisation problems, especially in materials development, drug discovery, transportation and other real-world problems of high importance to industry.
Since June 2019, 25 EU Member States have signed the EuroQCI Declaration, agreeing to work together, with the Commission and with the support of the European Space Agency, towards the development of a quantum communication infrastructure covering the whole EU (EuroQCI). It will consist of an earth-based segment that will use existing fibre communication networks linking strategic sites, and a space-based segment ensuring full coverage across the EU and other continents.
The EuroQCI will integrate quantum technologies and systems into conventional communication infrastructures. This will make it possible to secure Europe’s encryption systems and critical infrastructures against cyber threats, store and exchange sensitive information safely, and preserve government data against current and future threats. The first service to make use of it will be quantum key distribution (QKD), an encryption technique that uses quantum phenomena and is not subject to the same vulnerabilities as many other forms of encryption based on mathematical functions. QKD can therefore be used to enable the long-term security of data and communication messages.
Work is currently ongoing to design the EuroQCI, taking into account the technologies available and in development, and the requirements of the participating Member States. The long-term plan is for the EuroQCI to become the basis of a quantum internet in Europe, connecting quantum computers, simulators and sensors via quantum networks to distribute information and resources securely.