France’s defense-procurement agency said it awarded contracts to five domestic computer-research startups to develop technology that will allow the country to have two universal quantum computer prototypes by 2032, with the goal of developing quantum systems usable for defense requirements.

The framework agreements with the five companies – Alice & Bob, C12, Pasqal, Quandela and Quobly – are worth up to €500 million (US$545 million), the Armed Forces Ministry said in an emailed statement on March 6.

President Emmanuel Macron announced a national quantum strategy three years ago to equip the country with the computing resources required to guarantee France’s sovereignty in the field. Quantum computing exploits the laws of quantum physics with the goal of solving complex problems faster than with classical computers, a target known as quantum advantage.

“Quantum technology is of major importance to the Armed Forces, with potential applications in cryptography or in communications,” the ministry said in the statement. “The revolution underway will allow us to perceive our environment with unprecedented precession, discover new materials, explore new ways of transmitting information, navigate there where the GPS network is inaccessible.”

The program to develop quantum-computer prototypes will be coordinated by the Defense Digital Agency, known by its French acronym AND, and part of the procurement agency.

Google, IBM and others have built the first wave of quantum computers, but challenges around stability and scalability means commercial applications still face hurdles. In quantum computing, information is stored in quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in multiple states simultaneously, potentially enabling the technology to outperform a traditional system based on binary bits.

France two years ago announced a hybrid quantum computing network to connect traditional systems and quantum computers, making them available to research institutions, startups and industry partners.

The five French startups “all have what it takes to meet this challenge, but it’s too early to say which of them will succeed in overcoming the various engineering, manufacturing and industrialization hurdles,” the ministry said. “That why this partnership takes the form of a three-stage competition: proof of concept, maturation and then industrialization.”

Four years in to the program, the three most successful projects will be retained to develop the best logic qubits capable of going to scale, according to the ministry. At the eight-year mark, the competition will be limited to two technologies, which will continue to be developed from prototype computers, with a goal of 128 logic qubits, to commercial systems, with a goal of 2,048 qubits, and usable by their first customers.

Paris-based Alice & Bob was founded in 2020 and has raised more than €30 million, working on a universal quantum computer with error correction. C12, founded in the same year and also based in the French capital, is using carbon nanotubes to build its quantum processor, after securing €10 million in seed funding in 2021.

Pasqal, founded in 2019, has raised more than €140 million to date and is developing a quantum computer using neutral atoms ordered in arrays. Quandela raised more than €50 million in November, and is using photonics as its technology of choice, which the company says is relatively easy to scale and operates largely at room temperature. Quobly is developing error-tolerant quantum-computing processors which it says can be built using existing semiconductor fabs, and the Grenoble-based company in July closed its first funding round of €19 million.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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