Power

Honeywell takes on Google and IBM at quantum computing

Honeywell says that it has the world's most powerful quantum computer.

Conceptual computer artwork of electronic circuitry with blue light passing through it, representing how data may be controlled and stored in a quantum computer.

Honeywell claims it's about to unveil the most powerful quantum computer yet using its unique trapped ion technology.

Illustration: Science Photo Library via Getty Images

The race to dominate the nascent field of quantum computing has a new contender: a 114-year-old company best known for making thermostats.

Honeywell announced today that it will unveil what it says is the most powerful quantum computer on the market in the next three months. The new machine will be at least twice as powerful as any other quantum computer currently available, according to Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions. The company released its findings on arXiv today, as it enters an increasingly crowded market for quantum computers that are still trying to find their place in the business world.

Get what matters in tech, in your inbox every morning. Sign up for Source Code.

The most visible players in quantum computing today are IBM and Google. Honeywell itself has been quietly developing its quantum system for the better part of a decade, and it's finally ready to talk in more detail about its plans. The company's history in heavy industry has it well-positioned to make a dent in the still-young quantum market, analysts told Protocol.

It's also forging ahead with a slightly different strategy than its competitors by going directly at clients and application with its technology from the get-go: It's already signing up partners, including JPMorgan Chase to develop new algorithms for the financial industry. Though Honeywell's been quiet up until now, it seems ready to play catch-up in a hurry.

"Google has readily shared its quantum successes with the market, whereas IBM has been a little less likely to do the same thing — and Honeywell's almost been doing this in the dark," said Daniel Newman, CEO and principal analyst at Futurum Research.

Honeywell's different approach to quantum

Quantum computing has made a relatively quick jump out of the lab over the last few years. IBM, one of the earliest pioneers in quantum computing, unveiled "Q," a cloud-services offering based on its quantum computers, in 2017. Last year, Google announced that its 5-year-old research division had built a quantum machine that could complete a calculation in minutes that would've taken a classical computer over 10,000 years. (IBM refuted that claim.) Microsoft also jumped into the fray in late 2019, with Honeywell, along with two other quantum companies, IonQ and QCI, to offer quantum processing on its Azure cloud-computing platform. A host of smaller firms, including D-Wave, Rigetti, 1QBit and Strangeworks, are also developing quantum technologies.

Partnerships, like the one between Honeywell and JPMorgan, are becoming increasingly common, as organizations bet on various quantum futures. IBM touts several high-profile partners, including ExxonMobil, Samsung, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan itself. Google has teamed up with NASA, and Rigetti's computers are now available through AWS.

Honeywell uses a slightly different metric to rate its quantum computers. Many reports tend to focus on how many quantum bits — qubits — computers have. Google's record-breaking machine had 54 qubits, considerably more than the five qubits IBM's Q service had in 2017. Honeywell, however, uses a metric called "quantum volume" (which was originally conceived by IBM) that measures the overall performance of the qubits in the quantum system, combining various metrics, such as the fidelity of the qubits in the system and how conductive they are. Uttley said that Honeywell plans to release its computer with a quantum volume of 64, but added that it also plans to increase its quantum volume by an order of magnitude every year for the next five years.

"It is pretty rare in a technological sense to have a company define their product using a definition proposed by a different company," said James Sanders, an analyst at 451 Research covering cloud transformation.

Uttley said he's hoping the tight-knit quantum-computing community reacts positively to Honeywell's research, adding, "I'm prepared for it not to be the case."

"IBM is excited to see the wider quantum computing community embrace the quantum volume metric," said Jerry Chow, a senior manager of quantum system technology at IBM Research. "This result confirms quantum volume is the best hard agnostic benchmark to measure progress of quantum computers." Chow added that IBM "reached a quantum volume of 32 on a 28-qubit superconducting system," back in January. "Honeywell's paper shows exciting new progress in programmable trapped-ion quantum systems," Chow said. (Google declined to comment on Honeywell's announcement.)

Whereas Google and IBM use superconducting qubits as the underlying technology to build their quantum computers, Honeywell uses something called trapped-ion qubits. Both Sanders and Uttley told Protocol that it's too early to say whether one approach will prevail over another — we're not quite yet in a quantum-computing format war — but Uttley said he sees the potential in the future for hybrid systems that could be running some combination of classical computers and multiple different types of quantum computers optimized for different tasks.

Over the last decade, Honeywell set itself targets to determine whether quantum was something it should continue trying to explore. It hit its biggest milestone in 2015, Uttley said, when it was able to build its own ion traps: the technology Honeywell is exploring with its quantum computers that uses lasers to trap electrically charged atoms into a superpositioned state. It's a similar technique to how some of the most accurate atomic clocks are made. After building its traps, Honeywell organized the research into a business group. The team has spent the last four years perfecting its quantum system, announcing an early test with Microsoft in November.

"I think right now, especially in these early days, it's way too premature to rule anything out — how things evolve over the long term, I don't know," Uttley said.

What is Honeywell developing for quantum computers?

However impressive these machines are, the efforts mean little unless they have something to do. Today, Honeywell also announced that it's invested in two software companies specializing in quantum computers, Cambridge Quantum Computing and Zapata Computing. Cambridge is working to develop quantum algorithms for cybersecurity and chemistry, and Zapata is working on optimizing the most complex workflow problems companies have with its algorithms, such as finance and logistics. Both companies' software can run on a variety of quantum computers. (For more on these companies, see our story on quantum algorithms.)

Many of the industries that Honeywell already operates in, such as aerospace and materials design, could be potentially disrupted by the computing power of quantum machines, Uttley said. But for other areas, it will look to industry leaders to develop new algorithms.

"We believe the industries that Honeywell is in today are going to be profoundly impacted," Uttley said. "But there are other areas like financial services where we absolutely want to partner with experts to be able to take advantage of the kinds of capabilities that we can bring to bear."

That's also why it's partnering with JPMorgan Chase. The partnership reflects two companies "committed to finding the value opportunities in quantum to solve real-world challenges like fraud detection," Newman said. It's an important step toward figuring out how to monetize the technology, he added. "The average CIO or CFO is still looking at this and asking, 'How is this impacting my business?'" Newman said.

Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.

It might still be early days in the industry, but Honeywell is joining an increasingly crowded field of hardware manufacturers, and in the same way that any new platform needs developers to figure out the transformative ways the technology can be used, the real problem that needs to be solved now is software. "The hardware development is actually a bit further along than a lot of this software development is — there needs to be a lot more programmers and researchers," Sanders said.

"I think now is definitely the time to start investigating what types of workloads or what types of problems that you might be able to solve with quantum computers," Sanders said. "If companies have developers that have a bit of time that they can dedicate to just researching what's next, this is a good time to do that."

Protocol | Fintech

How European fintech startup N26 is preparing for U.S. regulations

"There's a lot more scrutiny being placed on fintech. We are definitely mindful of it."

In an interview with Protocol, Stephanie Balint, N26's U.S. general manager, discussed the company's approach to regulations in the U.S.

Photo: N26

N26's monster $900 million funding round announced Monday underlined the German startup's momentum in the digital banking market.

Stephanie Balint, N26's U.S. general manager, said the funding will be used for expansion and also to improve "our core offering to make this the most reliable bank that our customers can trust," she told Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Apple’s new MacBooks are the future — and the past

After years of reinventing the wheel, Apple's back to just building really good ones.

Apple brought back the ports.

Photo: Apple

The 2015 Pro was, by most accounts, one of the best laptops Apple ever made. It was fast and functional, and it had a great screen, a MagSafe charger, plenty of ports, a great keyboard and solid battery life. If you walked around practically any office in Silicon Valley, you'd see Pros everywhere.

Many of those users have been holding on to their increasingly old and dusty 2015 Pros, too, because right about when that computer came out was when Apple seemed to lose its way in the laptop market. It released the 12-inch MacBook, an incredibly thin and light computer that made a bunch of changes — a new keyboard and trackpad design chief among them — that eventually made their way around the rest of the MacBook lineup. Then came the Touch Bar, Apple's attempt to build an entirely new user interface into a laptop.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Protocol spoke to founders and tech execs who've embraced async and have tips on how to get started.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Imagine a company where there are no meetings — just time for deep, focused work punctuated by short conversations on Slack and project updates on Trello.

Now imagine a company where the no-meeting ethos is so ingrained that it's possible to work there for 10 years without ever speaking face-to-face with a single coworker, and for your boss to not even recognize the sound of your voice.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma
Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.
Protocol | Workplace

#AppleToo activist says Apple fired her for deleting apps from her devices

Janneke Parrish says she was dismissed after deleting Robinhood, Pokemon Go and Google Drive from her work devices during an investigation inside the company.

The Apple Too movement is trying to organize Apple workers into a collective movement.
Photo: Bloomberg via Getty

Unlike most other companies, Apple asks that its employees use their work phones like personal ones — and for five years, Apple program manager Janneke Parrish did as she was told. But last week, when Apple asked Parrish for her devices in an internal investigation, she was afraid Apple would see her personal and private information. She disobeyed orders and deleted apps like Robinhood, Pokemon Go and Google Drive. Then Apple fired her.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories