IonQ Releases A New 32-Qubit Trapped-Ion Quantum Computer With Massive Quantum Volume Claims

Last May, I had a discussion with Peter Chapman, CEO of IonQ, a start-up quantum computing company.  Before coming to IonQ, Chapman worked for Amazon, where he was responsible for all the technical complexities of Amazon Prime.  IonQ had accomplished a lot in the twelve months that Chapman had been at the helm, so I was looking forward to talking to him. 

My biggest surprise during that discussion was that IonQ was simultaneously working on its next three generations of its trapped-ion quantum computers – 5th, 6th, and 7th generations. 

In a recent follow-up with Chapman, including Chris Monroe, IonQ’s Co-founder and Chief Scientist, we discussed IonQ’s release of its 5th generation quantum hardware.  Keep in mind that the 6th and 7th generations are still in development. Chapman said that each generation would be smaller and more powerful than its predecessor when released.  Although he didn’t mention it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chapman’s team hasn’t already begun work on IonQ’s 8th generation processor. 

Features of  IonQ’s new 5th generation quantum computer 

A qubit is the fundamental unit of information in a quantum computer. A classical computer bit can only be a one or zero.  A qubit can also exist as a one or zero, but when in a quantum state, it can be a superposition of both values.  IonQIon says its ‘s newest quantum hardware has 32 ion qubits in its latest release, almost tripling the 11 qubits in its previous quantum computer.   

Robert Niffenegger, a Ph.D. and a member of the Trapped Ion and Photonics group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, said he wasn’t surprised at the large jump in the number of qubits. ”Honestly, I think a lot of people were just holding their breath until they [IonQ] announced. They’ve published papers on

Trapped-ion quantum computer sets new mark for quantum volume

Extreme close-up photo of gold-colored computer component.
Enlarge / A look at one of the ion traps.

On Thursday, the startup IonQ announced that the next generation of its ion-trap quantum computer was ready for use. The new machine marks a major jump for the company, going from 11 qubits up to 32. While this still trails the offerings of companies that are using superconducting qubits, the high fidelity of the trapped ions makes them far less prone to errors and far easier to link into complex configurations. So, by at least one measure of performance, this is the most powerful quantum computer yet made.

Perhaps more significantly, IonQ’s CEO told Ars that it expects to be able to double the number of qubits every eight months for the next few years, meaning its hardware should consistently outperform classical computers within two years.

Trapping ions

IonQ isn’t the only company that’s working with trapped ions; Honeywell introduced a quantum computer based on the technology earlier this year. You can read that earlier coverage for more details, but we’ll summarize the reasoning behind this technology here.

Superconducting qubits—used by companies like Google, IBM, and Rigetti—are made using standard fabrication technologies and so are expected to benefit from further progress driven by the semiconductor industry. But as manufactured devices, they are neither perfect nor perfectly identical. As a result, their developers have had to find ways to work around a relatively high error rate and some qubit-to-qubit variability. While these issues have been improved, they’re very unlikely to ever go away. (There are other potential issues, such as inter-device interference and wiring complications, but we’ll set those aside for now.)

The fundamental unit of a trapped-ion qubit, by contrast, is an atom, and all atoms of a given isotope are functionally equivalent and, quite obviously, don’t suffer from manufacturing