All You Need Is… Quantum Cloud from Canadian Tech Startup Xanadu

By: Lee Rickwood

October 12, 2020

 Canadian tech startup Xanadu says its cloud quantum computing platform is ready to take on the most complex computational challenges.

All you need is… Xanadu’s cloud-based photonic quantum processors — in 8, 12, and soon 24 qubit machines — and perhaps its whimsically named development tools, Strawberry Fields and PennyLane.

The shout-out to a couple of (not the) greatest tunes ever written in the past belies Xanadu’s clear focus on the future.

people sitting in modern office near big window

Based in Toronto, the photonic quantum computing company is working with various industries and academic specialties. Xanadu image.

Based in Toronto, the photonic quantum computing company is giving developers from various industries and academic specialties access to incredibly powerful tools they can use to create and explore new applications for business and research.

It has released what it calls the world’s first publicly available photonic quantum cloud platform; it uses photons, or particles of light, to perform complex computations exceptionally fast.

Xanadu’s processing platform provides the power to tackle complex problems in finance, chemistry and pharmaceuticals, machine learning and data analytics, secure communications, and more. 

With its newest release, the company is opening access for new enterprise clients that want to harness the power of quantum computing to solve their most complex problems.

Xanadu sees it as the future of computing.

close up of computer inner workings

Xanadu uses a special type of light generated by its own integrated silicon photonic devices. image.

Photonics-based quantum computers have many advantages over older platforms. Older cloud platforms use electronics and electrons to move bits of data around; Xanadu uses a special type of light generated by its own integrated silicon photonic devices.

Xanadu’s quantum processors operate using much less power than other platforms and can operate at room temperature. They can be easily integrated into existing fibre optic-based telecom infrastructure, bringing visions of a computationally powerful future where quantum computers are networked.

“We are laying the groundwork for our vision of the future: a global array of photonic quantum computers, networked over a quantum Internet,” said Christian Weedbrook, Xanadu Founder and CEO, when announcing Xanadu Quantum Cloud. “Our architecture is new, designed to scale-up like the Internet versus traditional mainframe-like approaches… We believe we can roughly double the number of qubits in our cloud systems every six months,” he added. “Future machines will also offer improved performance and new features like increased qubit connectivity, unlocking more applications for customers.”

people standing at large workdesks, mechanical or electronic setting

The company is working with several seed funding groups and real-world customers. Xanadu LinkedIn image.

It’s not just the company leadership that is so stoked: investors, too, are buying into the concept: back in May 2018, the company raised $9 million in a seed round from Golden Ventures and Real Ventures. A year or so later, In November, Xanadu received a grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test the performance of quantum machine learning (QML) algorithms on currently available quantum computing hardware.

The startup also announced $32 million in Series A financing in 2019, led by OMERS Ventures, and the company has received a $4.4 million grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to advance its work in photonic quantum computing.

Meanwhile, test solutions have been run on the pre-release Xanadu Quantum Cloud by Creative Destruction Labs, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and two leading Canadian banks.

In a joint proof-of-concept with BMO and Scotiabank, Xanadu used its quantum algorithm to improve the accuracy of financial trading products.

The partners reported being able to solve the time-consuming problems connected to different market scenarios, pricing strategies, and portfolio development in near real-time and much lower power draw and costs than working in traditional CPU intensive data centres.

As noted, Xanadu’s two key software products are Strawberry Fields and PennyLane; open-source tools available on Github. PennyLane is the Python software framework for quantum machine learning; Strawberry Fields is the main interface for Xanadu’s photonic quantum computers and simulators. (On this Thanksgiving Day for sure, I am thankful for pretty much any song from The Beatles – seems Xanadu is grateful too.)

large group of people smiling at camera

Late last year, Xanadu hosted its first quantum machine learning hackathon, with quantum computing and quantum machine learning experts and enthusiasts in attendance. Now, Xanadu has announced a 16-week paid summer residency program kicking off in May 2021 as it continues to build the quantum community in Canada. Xanadu image.

With quantum computing aspirations driving some of the world’s largest IT firms, like Google, Honeywell, IBM, and others, several smaller Canadian players – including Agnostiq, D-Wave, OTI Lumionics, Xanadu, and Zapata, among others – have banded together as Quantum Industry Canada to represent and promote commercial-grade quantum products and services developed here in Canada. 

The U.S., U.K., and China are among the leaders in the global quantum computing sector – but Canada has a powerful role to play as well, says Jennifer Elliott, Co-Chair of Quantum Industry Canada.

The use of quantum technology in healthcare, pharmaceutical research, resource management, finance, telecommunications, and security will be transformative to the global economy in the coming decades. Canadian companies and governments should start thinking about their quantum strategies now. They stand to benefit from access to the technology being developed by Canada’s quantum technology companies.”


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