By Sara Castellanos
International Business Machines Corp. said Wednesday that more than 100 organizations are using its quantum-computing services, including businesses, universities and government research facilities.
The IBM Q Network launched in late 2017 and had 40 clients as of January 2019. Clients of the network pay to use some of the company's 15 early-stage quantum-computing machines via the cloud. The service also offers access to developer tools and expertise from IBM's quantum-computing staff.
Other technology companies, including Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp., also allow customers to experiment with quantum-computing hardware over their respective clouds. Microsoft and Amazon announced quantum-computing services late last year.
Quantum computers are potentially much more powerful than traditional computers, but they are also more delicate and prone to faults. The technology is still in its early stages and no commercial-grade quantum computer has been built yet. Technology companies and startups developing quantum machines face engineering challenges that are making the road to market longer than planned.
Still, clients are learning about what the technology can do for specific use cases, said Dario Gil, director of IBM Research. "Value is being created today," he added.
IBM said its quantum-computing clients include Delta Air Lines Inc., Daimler AG, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Anthem Inc. and span industries ranging from energy to electronics.
IBM's client announcement suggests that quantum computing is no longer a lab or university experiment, said Matthew Brisse, an analyst at research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. who covers quantum computing. "[Chief information officers] and technical professionals are looking at quantum computing today to provide a competitive differentiator in the future," he said.
By 2023, a fifth of organizations, including businesses and governments, are expected to budget for quantum-computing projects, up from less than 1% in 2018, according to Gartner.
Quantum computers, by harnessing the properties of quantum physics, have the potential to sort through a vast number of possibilities in nearly real time and come up with a probable solution. While traditional computers store information as either zeros or ones, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which represent and store information as both zeros and ones simultaneously.
The research-and-development division of Mercedes-Benz, a Daimler brand, has been using IBM's quantum-computing services over the past year to learn how the technology could help create advanced batteries for electric cars. The company also has a quantum-computing research partnership with Alphabet Inc.'s Google.
"The technology will unlock some potential that we don't have right now, " said Benjamin Boeser, director of innovation management at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America.
Today, battery development and testing is a physical process that requires experts to build prototypes first because there is no simulation software. A quantum computer could help Mercedes-Benz find new materials or combinations of materials that could result in better electrochemical performance and longer battery life.
Some of those innovations could include lithium-sulfur batteries, which could be more affordable than today's lithium-ion batteries, as well as more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, said Andreas Hintennach, head of battery research and technology at Daimler.
Over the past year, researchers at Mercedes-Benz have used an IBM quantum computer to learn more about the chemical reaction between lithium and sulfur by modeling the energy between certain molecules, among other experiments, he said.
Mercedes-Benz researchers have also identified certain quantum algorithms that could eventually help with simulating battery chemistry once a commercial-grade quantum computer becomes available, he added.
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