RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Atom Computing has closed a $60 million Series B fundraising round, and plans to commercialize a “second generation” quantum computer in 2022, the company announced this morning.
“With this Series B, we’re going to build our second generation machines,” said CEO Rob Hays in an interview with WRAL TechWire. “And we’re going to commercialize the technology, as a public cloud service, in the next couple of months.”
The $60 million round followed a Series A round in 2021 of $15 million and a seed round of $5 million. The company also launched its first-generation quantum computer in 2021, naming it the Phoenix.
That computer, a 100-qubit machine, was the first built using nuclear-spin qubits from an alkaline earth element, said Hays in a 2021 interview with WRAL TechWire.
What’s a qubit?
Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:
“In quantum computing, a qubit (/ˈkjuːbɪt/) or quantum bit is the basic unit of quantum information—the quantum version of the classic binary bit physically realized with a two-state device. A qubit is a two-state (or two-level) quantum-mechanical system, one of the simplest quantum systems displaying the peculiarity of quantum mechanics. Examples include the spin of the electron in which the two levels can be taken as spin up and spin down; or the polarization of a single photon in which the two states can be taken to be the vertical polarization and the horizontal polarization. In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other. However, quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a coherent superposition of both states simultaneously, a property that is fundamental to quantum mechanics and quantum computing.”
It’s the underlying technology that will enable Atom Computing to rapidly scale its technology to add computing power beyond the first-generation computer’s 100 qubits, he explained.
IBM recently unveiled a 123-qubit machine with numerous companies such as Google pressing to push quantum power.
The funding round, which Hays noted closed near the end of 2021, came together quickly, and the company’s existing investors were interested in joining the Series B. Hays told WRAL TechWire that many of the funds who had previously invested wished to do so again in the Series B round.
Third Point Ventures led the round, with participation from new investor Prime Movers Lab and existing investors that included Innovation Endeavors, Venrock, and Prelude Ventures, Hays noted.
“We were looking to bring in a larger fund to lead the round,” said Hays. “Who would be a long-term partner.”
Hays told WRAL TechWire that Third Point Ventures was an excellent match for the company’s plans.
“Get these second generation machines, and there will be multiple machines, ready to go,” Hays told WRAL TechWire was the company’s focus for how to allocate the new funding. “Quantum is a big paradigm shift in computing,” said Hays. “We’re going to build our second generation machines, with the same technology that we used for Pheonix, just at a larger scale,” he added.
And the company plans to commercialize its technology as a public cloud service, said Hays. “In the next couple of months.”
That includes bringing the technology to market with a partner, though Hays noted that no deal has been formed just yet, though the company will select a partner in “coming weeks and months.”
Hays noted that they’re seeking a “Tier I” partner, such as “an Amazon, a Microsoft, a Google, an IBM,” and added that the company “may sell systems in the future, as well, but that’s a secondary business model.”
The company’s business model, to deliver quantum computing via public cloud through a partner, is already seeing interest, Hays noted.
“With 100-qubits, there’s not a lot you can do for commercial value,” said Hays, adding that the company has still seen significant interest from customers, “mostly large companies, airlines, freight, biotech, pharma, banks, aerospace.”
“They’re building up small teams of people to develop and then test algorithms,” said Hays. “That’s to learn how to program these things, and see what kind of response they get, so that they’re ready.”
Take banking, said Hays, where use cases for quantum computing include porfolio optimization and risk management. Or in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, where use cases could include molecule simulation or drug discovery, allowing the companies to accelerate what they’re already doing, supplemented with quantum computing.
“The big differentiator is our technology,” said Hays. “We’re capturing these atoms in a vacuum chamber,” he explained. Doing so allows the company to construct higher qubit quantum computers, and the company can scale computing capacity by creating more light in the vacuum chamber, he said. “And all be wirelessly controlled.”
That’s resulting in the firm receiving a lot of attention, both from potential customers and from investors, Hays noted. And, said Hays, it is attracting talent from the industry, at a time when the company is planning to hire. Since July, the company has doubled in size, and now employs some 40 people, said Hays, adding that the firm plans to bring on software engineers, electrical engineers, application engineers, and some business and corporate roles in the next nine months, totaling as many as 20 more employees.
2022 could well be the year that quantum computing becomes more widely understood, said Hays. (Hays wrote a column, which WRAL TechWire republished, with permission, with predictions for the industry in 2022.)
“There’s a lot of mystery around quantum mechanics,” said Hays. “And as we make it real, and make real products, and show people how to get real value out of it, we can strip away the complicated physics, and show what we can provide.”
“When I talk to customers, and when I was talking to investors, raising the Series B,” Hays noted they tend to ask the same question: “What can you do with 100 qubits, what can you do with 1000 qubits, what can you do with 10,000 qubits?”
With the rollout of the company’s second-generation quantum computers, Hays anticipates greater and greater understanding of what’s possible.
“Working with partners and customers to define a roadmap of use cases, at different scales, is the most pressing problem, and the biggest opportunity that we have,” said Hays. “At the end of the day, it’s about the promise that our technology has in scaling, and how our current and prior investors and new investors are making the right bet to bring quantum computing to reality,”