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On Monday, Intel Labs introduced first of its kind cryogenic control chip codenamed Horse Ridge. According to Intel, Horse Ridge will enable commercially viable quantum computers and speed up development of full-stack quantum computing systems.

Intel announced that Horse Ridge will enable control of multiple quantum bits (qubits) and set a clear path toward scaling larger systems. This seems to be a major milestone on the path to quantum practicality. As right now the challenge for quantum computing is that it only works at near-freezing temperatures. Intel is trying to change that with this control chip. As per Intel, Horse Ridge will be able to enable control at very low temperatures, as it will eliminate hundreds of wires going into a refrigerated case that houses the quantum computer.

Horse Ridge is developed in partnership with Intel’s research collaborators at QuTech at Delft University of Technology. It is fabricated using Intel’s 22-nanometer FinFET manufacturing technology. The in-house fabrication of these control chips at Intel will dramatically accelerate the company’s ability to design, test, and optimize a commercially viable quantum computer, the company said.

“A lot of research has gone into qubits, which can do simultaneous calculations. But Intel saw that controlling the qubits created another big challenge to developing large-scale commercial quantum systems,” states Jim Clarke, Director of quantum hardware, Intel in the official press release .

“It’s pretty unique in the community, as we’re going to take all these racks of electronics you see in a university lab and miniaturize that with our 22-nanometer technology and put it inside of a fridge,” added Clarke. “And so we’re starting to control our qubits very locally without having a lot of complex wires for cooling.”

The name “Horse Ridge” is inspired from one of the coldest regions in Oregon known as the Horse Ridge. It is designed to operate at cryogenic temperatures, approx 4 degrees Kelvin which is 7 degrees Fahrenheit and 4 degrees Celsius.

What is the innovation behind Horse Ridge

Quantum computers promise the potential to tackle problems that conventional computers can’t handle by themselves. Quantum computers leverage a phenomenon of quantum physics that allows qubits to exist in multiple states simultaneously. As a result, qubits can conduct a large number of calculations at the same time dramatically speeding up complex problem-solving.

But Intel acknowledges the fact that the quantum research community still lags behind in demonstrating quantum practicality, a benchmark to determine if a quantum system can deliver game-changing performance to solve real-world problems.

Till date, researchers have focused on building small-scale quantum systems to demonstrate the potential of quantum devices. In these efforts, researchers have relied upon existing electronic tools and high-performance computing rack-scale instruments to connect the quantum system to the traditional computational devices that regulates qubit performance and programs the system inside the cryogenic refrigerator.

These devices are often custom designed to control individual qubits, requiring hundreds of connective wires in and out of the refrigerator. However, this extensive control cabling for each qubit hinders the ability to scale the quantum system to the hundreds or thousands of qubits required to demonstrate quantum practicality, not to mention the millions of qubits required for a commercially viable quantum solution.

With Horse Ridge, Intel radically simplifies the control electronics required to operate a quantum system. Replacing these bulky instruments with a highly integrated system-on-chip (SoC) will simplify system design and allow for sophisticated signal processing techniques to accelerate set-up time, improve qubit performance, and enable the system to efficiently scale to larger qubit counts.

“One option is to run the control electronics at room temperature and run coax cables down to configure the qubits. But you can immediately see that you’re going to run into a scaling problem because you get to hundreds or thousands of cables and it’s not going to work,” said Richard Uhlig, Managing Director Intel Labs.

“What we’ve done with Horse Ridge is that it’s able to run at temperatures that are much closer to the qubits themselves. It runs at about 4 degrees Kelvin. The innovation is that we solved the challenges around getting CMOS to run at those temperatures and still have a lot of flexibility in how the qubits are controlled and configured.”

To know more about this exciting news, check out the official announcement from Intel.

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