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A major step towards the world’s first universal quantum operating system

A major step towards the world’s first universal quantum operating system
22 September, 2021

Riverlane and the National Physical Laboratory launch a new quantum API to accelerate progress in quantum computing software.

After decades of blood, sweat and physics, quantum computers are finally here. Like the earliest classical computers, today’s nascent machines are small, fragile, and programmable only by the physicists who have built them. To make them useful, we need to put them in the hands of researchers and developers who are tackling consequential problems – from drug discovery to battery capacity – and running up against the limitations of classical computation.

In the future, ecosystems of developers and engineers will coalesce around each of these important problems. But getting there will require a new software infrastructure which is both orders of magnitude more complex than the operating systems we’re used to deploying on classical computers, and universally interoperable with every kind of quantum hardware.

‍Hardware: the great unknown

One major obstacle hindering the development of quantum operating systems is that we don’t yet know which kinds of hardware will reach commercialisation – from trapped ions to super conducting qubits to photons. While many approaches are showing signs of promise, it’s too early to say which will overcome the major challenges of scalability and error reduction.

Today, most hardware companies are using their own distinct architecture, which means developers have to optimise applications for a single quantum hardware, increasing costs and throttling collaboration.

Introducing HAL: the first universal quantum API

‍Today, Riverlane is leading a major step towards overcoming that challenge, launching a new open-source hardware abstraction layer (HAL) that will allow high-level quantum computer users, such as application developers, platform and system software engineers, and cross-platform software architects, to write programs that will be interoperable with multiple kinds of quantum hardware.

We built this technology in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and a consortium of the UK’s most promising hardware companies, including SeeQCHitachi Europe, Universal Quantum, Duality Quantum Photonics, Oxford Ionics, and Oxford Quantum Circuits, as well as UK-based chip designer, ARM. This work was enabled by a £7.6M grant from the UK government’s Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund.

A force multiplier for collaboration and progress

The launch of HAL represents a critical milestone for the UK’s quantum computing strategy, enabling deeper and broader collaboration between hardware and software companies across the quantum ecosystem.

We decided to open source the HAL publicly and it is now freely accessible on Github. By opening up this layer, users will be able to experience running their applications on several different qubit technologies and adapt to the intricacies of each hardware approach. Our hope is that this level of accessibility will generate more commercial opportunities for the UK quantum workforce while broadening their skillset.

There is also a clear benefit to the industry as a whole. Quantum users experimenting with this new technology will fuel further innovations and hopefully accelerate the pathway to quantum usefulness.

For pharmaceutical researchers working on important problems, such as developing an algorithm to map how brain cells respond to a drug, the HAL enables them to test and perfect their work on any quantum computer in the world.

The community’s input will fill in some missing gaps on quantum computing’s most complex challenges. In the future, the HAL will provide support for advanced features, such as compiler optimisations, measurement-based control, and error correction – but in the meantime, active use of the HAL by the quantum community will help build our understanding of these more complex features.

Where next?

We want to thank the NPL and the industry consortium for making this important step possible. We can’t wait to see what quantum developers build next.

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