Honeywell to roll out quantum computer
Published on: March 24, 2020

Industrial conglomerate Honeywell International Inc. said Tuesday that it plans to introduce an early-stage quantum computer for commercial experiments within about three months, with JPMorgan Chase & Co. as the first public user.

A Honeywell executive said the machine is set to be the world’s most powerful quantum computer by one measure, as it vies for a leading position in the nascent quantum-computing market against technology giants such as International Business Machines Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp.

Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions, said the technology will be used by companies interested in significantly speeding up calculations and developing new materials and new trading strategies for financial services. The technology could also speed up calculations that involve machine learning, for use by industries such as aerospace and oil and gas. Honeywell already develops technology for those sectors.

“We believe that quantum computing is going to profoundly impact a number of industries,” Mr. Uttley said. - Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions.

Honeywell has also recently made undisclosed investments in quantum-computing software companies Cambridge Quantum Computing Ltd., based in the U.K., and Boston-based Zapata Computing Inc., Mr. Uttley said.

By harnessing the properties of quantum physics, quantum computers have the potential to sort through a vast number of possibilities nearly instantaneously 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. No commercial-grade quantum computer has been built yet.

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 research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

Mr. Uttley said Honeywell expects its machine to be “the world’s most powerful quantum computer,” based on an expected quantum volume of at least 64. The computer’s current quantum volume is 16. IBM in January said its quantum computer had a quantum volume of 32.

Quantum volume determines how powerful a quantum system can be. It takes into account how complex an algorithm a quantum computer can implement before decoherence affects the results, said Matthew Brisse, a Gartner analyst who covers quantum computing. Decoherence refers to changes in temperature, noise, frequency and motion that can hurt the accuracy of a calculation or prevent it from being completed.

Quantum volume was first defined by IBM and there are no universally accepted industry standards for measuring quantum-computing performance, according to Mr. Brisse. It’s an “interpretation of how they measure their quantum systems,” he said.

Honeywell’s machine is based on a method that uses trapped ions. Mr. Uttley said this method makes for more accurate calculations compared to other techniques because it allows for the quantum bits to be controlled more accurately while mitigating potential errors.

The trapped-ion method is also used by venture-backed startup IonQ Inc. It differs from a common approach to quantum computing, practiced by early adopters such as Google and IBM, which is to manufacture superconducting qubits that are extremely delicate and need to be supercooled to create quantum mechanical effects.

Honeywell, based in Charlotte, N.C., began work about a decade ago on the underlying technology for quantum computers, Mr. Uttley said. The company’s quantum-computing team is made up of more than 100 people, including scientists, engineers, coders and technicians.

Marco Pistoia, managing director and global technology head of applied research and engineering at JPMorgan Chase, said Honeywell’s quantum computer is revolutionary in that it has been able to reduce its error rate and increase the stability of its qubits by using trapped ions. “They’re releasing a computer that’s extremely powerful,” he said.

Mr. Pistoia declined to disclose whether JPMorgan is a paying customer of Honeywell’s quantum computing services. JPMorgan intends to continue experimenting with a quantum computer built by IBM, a partnership that began in late 2017.

The JPMorgan executive said he expects to use quantum computing to speed up computing-intensive calculations. Such calculations include Monte Carlo simulations, which are commonly used to calculate the theoretical value of an option, or a contract that gives individuals the right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specific price and time.

Quantum computing could also be used in portfolio optimization, where the firm would want to select the best asset distribution while maximizing expected returns and minimizing costs and financial risks.

“These are all problems that when you look at them classically they have very high complexity, so they lend themselves very naturally to quantum computing,” said Mr. Pistoia, who joined JPMorgan in January. He previously spent 24 years at IBM, where he was a distinguished research staff member and senior manager of quantum computing.

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