The firm’s cryogenic wafer prober (above) helps speed up the testing of quantum bits, or qubits, which are the key to the potential power of quantum computers.
The challenge: Qubits are hard to generate. In some cases, they have to be produced in refrigerators that are colder than outer space. Getting even tiny amounts of data on their performance can take days—and the full testing process can take months.
This is a big problem, because if the computers are ever going to become commercially viable, qubits will need to be tested far faster. Conventional transistors can be fully checked in about an hour, with feedback swiftly sent back to the production lines producing the wafers.
The gear: The wafer cryoprober, which Intel developed together with BlueFors and Afore, two Finnish companies with expertise in the tech involved, is the first tool of its kind to accelerate testing on silicon quantum chips.
Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, says the machine, which swiftly cools wafers to a few kelvins, makes testing qubits “a couple of orders of magnitude” faster than using standard dilution refrigerators.
The big question: It’s going to take vast numbers of qubits to create quantum machines that are really effective. That’s because of a phenomenon known as “noise,” in which even the tiniest vibration or changes in temperature can cause qubits to lose their fragile quantum state. So thinking about how to scale the manufacturing of them now makes a lot of sense. But there are still some experts who think the noise issue could prevent the computers from ever going mainstream.
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