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."

Policy

Nobody will help Big Tech prevent online terrorism but itself

There’s no will in Congress or the C-suites of social media giants for a new approach, but smaller platforms would have room to step up — if they decided to.

Timothy Kujawski of Buffalo lights candles at a makeshift memorial as people gather at the scene of a mass shooting at Tops Friendly Market at Jefferson Avenue and Riley Street on Sunday, May 15, 2022 in Buffalo, NY. The fatal shooting of 10 people at a grocery store in a historically Black neighborhood of Buffalo by a young white gunman is being investigated as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism, according to federal officials.

Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The shooting in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people over the weekend has put the spotlight back on social media companies. Some of the attack was livestreamed, beginning on Amazon-owned Twitch, and the alleged shooter appears to have written about how his racist motivations arose from misinformation on smaller or fringe sites including 4chan.

In response, policymakers are directing their anger at tech platforms, with New York Governor Kathy Hochul calling for the companies to be “more vigilant in monitoring” and for “a legal responsibility to ensure that such hate cannot populate these sites.”

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sponsored Content

Foursquare data story: leveraging location data for site selection

We take a closer look at points of interest and foot traffic patterns to demonstrate how location data can be leveraged to inform better site selecti­on strategies.

Imagine: You’re the leader of a real estate team at a restaurant brand looking to open a new location in Manhattan. You have two options you’re evaluating: one site in SoHo, and another site in the Flatiron neighborhood. Which do you choose?

Keep Reading Show less

We're answering all your questions about the crypto crash.

Photo: Chris Liverani/Unsplash

People started talking about another crypto winter in January, when falling prices had wiped out $1 trillion in value from November’s peak. Prices rallied back in March, restoring some of the losses. Then crypto fell hard again, with bitcoin down more than 60% from its all-time high and other cryptocurrencies harder hit. The market’s message was clear: Crypto winter was no longer coming. It’s here.

If you’ve got questions about the crypto crash, the Protocol Fintech team has answers.

Keep Reading Show less

How the founders of HalloApp plan to fix social media

Former WhatsApp execs talk about lessons learned building their privacy-focused platform.

Image: HalloApp

Stop me if you've heard this one before: An app that promises to be the anti-Facebook is focusing on real connections instead of ads and brands. Of course, this has been tried before. There’s an entire digital graveyard littered with the corpses of apps that tried and failed to offer a compelling alternative to the inescapable social network. But maybe two former Facebook employees who were instrumental at WhatsApp know the secret to drawing in users — and keeping them.

Neeraj Arora and Michael Donohue, who served as WhatsApp’s chief business officer and engineering director, respectively, started HalloApp in late 2019, dubbing it the “first real-relationship network.” Arora helped negotiate WhatsApp’s $22 billion sale to Meta (then known as Facebook Inc.) in 2014. He realized after joining the social giant that Facebook’s advertising-focused business model wasn’t serving its users and set out to create an alternative.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Climate

Business travel is Big Tech’s next climate challenge

Tech companies are waking up to the dangers business flights pose to the climate. Now, they’re trying to help employees figure out how to choose modes of travel that emit less carbon pollution.

Despite the fact that companies are focused more on cutting carbon, few have specific guidelines for individual employees on how to choose flights.

Photo: Gary Lopater via Unsplash

There’s no way around it: Business flights are frying the planet.

About 90% of business travel carbon emissions come from flying, and just 1% of travelers — many of whom fly for work — are responsible for 50% of all air travel carbon pollution. As the tech industry continues to make sweeping net zero pledges, actually getting there will require making smarter choices when it comes to flying.

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.

Latest Stories
Bulletins