How "quantum-ready" are German companies?
Interview with Dr Daniel Zeuch from the Peter Grünberg Institute for Quantum Computing Analytics (PGI-12)
28 February 2023
Large Corporations like Google and IBM are investing large sums in the development of quantum computers. But this technology of the future is not only interesting for high-tech giants. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can in some cases already benefit from quantum computing today. And for them, too, it is important to keep up with the potentially disruptive innovation in the field. In a recent study, Dr Daniel Zeuch from Forschungszentrum Jülich investigated how "quantum-ready" German companies are and how to support the development of strategies for entering the market. For his analysis, he spoke with more than 100 entrepreneurs and employees over the past two years.
How did you come to conduct this particular survey, Dr. Zeuch?
Quantum computing has been receiving increased attention for some time, also in the media. This is due to the fact that it has moved from a purely scientific to an economically interesting field of research and development. This also applies to other novel quantum technologies.
We at Forschungszentrum Jülich are already working with a number of companies in the field of quantum computing - but most of them are large companies. That's why we wanted to find out in our study whether small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs for short, could also be involved in the development of components and algorithms or software. In addition to collaborative efforts we also wanted to find out to what extent the companies are currently aware of this topic. For example, some companies could already take advantage of quantum computing by selling certain hardware components. In this regard, we conducted information and consultation interviews with 26 companies, for the most part by telephone or via video calls.
It will still take some time before quantum technologies are expected be become really useful for economic purposes. How active are small and medium-sized enterprises already today in this field?
Significantly improved calculations on quantum computers, which will undoubtedly bring economic benefits, are still a long way off. But economic value creation has already been around for a few years. Think, for example, of tech-giants like Google or IBM, which sell quantum computing capacities they have created. In contrast, the target group of our study, the SMEs, are rather manufacturers of classical high-tech components, some of which are already active in quantum computing; for example, companies that produce and develop special power sources or microwave analysers.
As far as the application of quantum technologies is concerned, however, many SMEs are still much more cautious today about possible investments. In our report, we have created a so-called quantum score for all SMEs. This also shows that hardware suppliers are currently still closer to quantum computing than potential users.
How great is the interest and also the hurdles if you want to enter this future-oriented field? There are, for example, only very little empirical data available to provide an orientation.
Here, too, one should distinguish between companies that are regarded as users and suppliers. Some suppliers are, as I said, already in business. For others, it is possible to get in rather quickly. And, of course, the situation is very different when it comes to the application of quantum computers. Reliable predictions for gaining clear computing advantages are not yet available. This is one reason why potential users are still quite reluctant. Nevertheless, as we have been able to observe in discussions, there is also a great deal of interest here to some extent in getting to grips with the topic. The prospect that quantum computers can deliver exponential computational advantages for certain problems was often perceived as a strong argument. It is no coincidence that technology companies such as Google, IBM or Amazon are pouring vast sums of money into this field.
In what fields of application will quantum technology be used in the future?
In an exchange with potential users, we addressed a number of use cases. Specifically, these included the detection of financial fraud, risk assessments for financial investments and data processing of images in the field of autonomous driving. Through our investigations during the study, we also became aware of other interesting applications. These are in the field of optimisation, for example, for production planning, gate allocation at airports or traffic management. Other relevant applications exist in the field of chemistry, for example, for the more efficient production of fertilisers or the development of new materials. However, once again, these cases tend to concern large companies rather than typical SMEs.
So what comes next after the study?
Interested companies are welcome to contact me at any time. I currently work at the Institute for Quantum Computer Analysis (PGI-12), where I play a transfer role between the Forschungszentrum Jülich and industry, associations, government institutions and our guests. Forschungszentrum Jülich also pursues various approaches to strengthen contact with industry, including SMEs, in the field of quantum computing. One example of this is the state-wide network "EIN Quantum NRW", to which more than a dozen research institutions in NRW joined last year in order to network together with companies from industry. Another example is the planned Center for Quantum Systems and Engineering, or CQSE for short, in which Forschungszentrum Jülich together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen intend to advance quantum technologies in the Rhineland.
Interview: Tobias Schlößer
- Peter Grünberg Institute (PGI)
- Institute for Quantum Computing Analytics (PGI-12)