The road to Advantage
D-Wave’s journey from pioneering startup to industry leader is two decades in the making. Here’s how we got from our first qubit to the world’s first quantum system built for business.
When D-Wave was founded in 1999, the world was a completely different place. The economy was midway through the first tech boom, and investors were doubling down on anything that had to do with the internet. Most people had never even heard the term “quantum computer” — many households were still setting up their first at-home PC. At the time, quantum computing was the stuff of science fiction. To those in the nascent quantum computing ecosystem — primarily researchers and academics — it was still unclear if quantum computing was even a technology that could be realized within their lifetimes.
Two decades later, quantum computing is at an inflection point. We’ve seen the industry reshape itself, new players emerge (from startups to tech giants), and governments around the world pledge ten-digit sums to promote quantum technology development.
D-Wave is helping to usher in a new era in quantum computing — one in which the primary use case is no longer scientific research or experimentation but solving business problems with real-world impact. This era will unlock the first in-production quantum computing applications and transform the way industries — from manufacturing to pharma — operate.
Getting to this point required a lot of work, trial and error, and dedication. As one of the pioneers in the space, we’ve seen countless milestones in research, development, and commercialization. D-Wave took academic theory and turned it into a full-blown enterprise business. Here’s how we got there:
The early years: 1999–2010
At the turn of the millennium, a small group of entrepreneurs and scientists saw the opportunity in a never-before tested theoretical technology: quantum computing. Just years earlier, the late physicist Richard Feynman had published his groundbreaking paper on quantum simulation, a rallying cry and roadmap for building a quantum computer.
Initially, D-Wave pursued a mission of building and prototyping quantum hardware to realize Prof. Feynman’s vision. The early years of the company were largely dedicated to research and development, leading to D-Wave’s first working qubits and scalable hardware.
In 2004, D-Wave made the deliberate decision to go all-in on quantum annealing to deliver practical business value with quantum computing. Unlike other hardware approaches to quantum computing, the team identified annealing as the best and fastest-path to commercial quantum applications with real-world value. This aligned with our mission to realize working, business-level quantum applications as soon as possible. And it paid off. The first practical applications and proofs-of-concepts were all developed on D-Wave’s quantum annealing computers.
The decision to bet big on quantum annealing was a bold move for D-Wave and set the stage for one of our biggest milestones: the first scalable quantum system and the world’s first commercial quantum computing services.
2011: Bringing quantum computing to business
In 2011, we officially moved our R&D to a new phase when we announced our collaboration with Lockheed Martin, a first-of-its-kind significant quantum computing relationship. This allowed outside scientists to work with quantum systems for the first time, and provided critical feedback for D-Wave’s continuing R&D effort and quantum hardware development.
Since the Lockheed Martin engagement, we’ve brought quantum hardware and cloud access to public and private organizations including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Julich Supercomputing Center, NASA Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and USRA, among others.
These organizations have leveraged D-Wave’s technology for a variety of research and academic applications, often granting access to their systems to researchers from all over the world. Through this early quantum access, users and researchers provided crucial feedback to D-Wave on how to improve quantum computers and make them even more ready for practical usage.
From the D-Wave One in 2011 to the D-Wave 2000Q in 2017, each subsequent generation of our quantum systems equipped organizations with dramatic improvements in performance. Each new system used the same architecture, running on superconducting integrated circuits, but with progressively more qubits.
As qubit numbers grew, D-Wave was able to tackle early applications tied to small, but relevant, business problems and began providing some of the world’s largest global businesses with quantum technology for actual business purposes as opposed to scientific experimentation.
2018: Quantum computing makes a giant leap in the cloud
In 2018, D-Wave brought down the barriers to quantum computing when we launched our Leap™ quantum cloud service and Quantum Application Environment. Leap was the first publicly accessible quantum cloud service allowing any interested developer to start coding on a live quantum processor for free. It also marked another key turning point in the industry — the large-scale commercialization of quantum computing.
Leap dramatically expanded access to quantum computers, and allowed business, researchers, and interested programmers to get familiar with a quantum computer. D-Wave knew that growing and nurturing a quantum ecosystem of developers would pave a quicker path to more diverse quantum computing applications.
Thanks largely to this unmatched cloud access, D-Wave’s customers have built over 250 early applications to-date, tackling a myriad of problems across industries, including finance, medicine, transportation, and machine learning. Today, Leap is available in 37 countries across North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region.
We are focused on our cloud business because it’s the most efficient, scalable way for developers and businesses across the globe to access quantum technology. Leap brings a seemingly inaccessible and expensive technology right to developers’ fingertips — whether they’re in a national laboratory in Munich or on their own laptop in Vancouver.
2019: Applications in-production
A major milestone in customer application development came at the 2019 Web Summit Conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Global automotive company Volkswagen crossed a threshold when it debuted the first-ever quantum application in production, a quantum shuttle service that carried people between conference centers.
Volkswagen partnered with public transportation provider CARRIS to equip MAN-buses with a quantum-optimized traffic management system. This system used a D-Wave hybrid application to calculate the fastest route for each of the nine participating buses individually in real-time.
The quantum shuttles were designed to carry thousands of conference attendees and reduce their travel times, avoiding traffic congestion across a 26-stop bus route.
Volkswagen’s quantum shuttle service was the first in-production quantum application. As one of the largest companies in the world, Volkswagen has been a pioneer in the quantum space and opened the door to more innovative, large-scale quantum applications in-production across industries. The quantum shuttle was just the beginning.
Today: 2020 — Advantage, an engineering feat
We’ve been committed to our goal of providing practical quantum computing for business for more than 15 years. Along the way, we have advanced our systems based on customer feedback, building hardware and software that didn’t just deliver scientific breakthroughs, but also allowed businesses and developers to create useful and impactful early applications.
Now, with years of customer feedback, D-Wave is proud to announce the general availability of the Advantage™ quantum system through our ground-breaking Leap quantum cloud service. Advantage is a game-changer for the industry and for enterprise — it is the first quantum system built from the ground-up for business. The new quantum computer will enable the first large-scale quantum computing applications in-production, and we’re excited to mark that next milestone in D-Wave’s history.
Advantage required a complete revamp of D-Wave’s quantum computing architecture, backed by our new 2.5x more connected topology. This new architecture allows D-Wave’s qubits to go from six-way connectivity in the 2000Q to 15-way connectivity, allowing users to solve much larger and far more complex enterprise-level problems.
It’s nothing short of an engineering feat. The Advantage system has a 5,000+ qubit QPU and took more than 100,000 hours to design and build over five years. It’s laced with 110 meters of wiring that’s less than 1/100,000th of a human hair in width on a chip the size of a fingernail.
During the Advantage beta program, customers, including Volkswagen, DENSO, Accenture, and more began to tackle real-world problems. Menten AI, for example, has seen a significant speedup in protein design using a hybrid quantum application on Advantage, compared to the leading protein structure prediction tool. Others like DENSO, Accenture, and Save-On-Foods are using Advantage to improve business efficiency and optimize their operations.
Quantum computing is only as valuable as the applications customers can run. And with the Advantage system, coupled with the new hybrid solver services in Leap that allow users to run problems with up to a million variables, there are fundamentally different types of quantum applications are possible. Customers now have business-ready quantum computing at their fingertips, so they can solve even more complex problems at greater scale and achieve business advantage.
The future of quantum applications
From the start, we’ve made a number of deliberate strategic decisions about our business model and the technology underpinning our quantum systems — from our laser focus on practicality and commercialization to our big bet on annealing. Today, these decisions have culminated in the launch of Advantage.
D-Wave’s Mark Johnson, Vice President of Processor Design & Development and Quantum Products, has been an integral leader of the team behind Advantage. He joined D-Wave 15 years ago after working on exploratory quantum research, and has been developing D-Wave’s quantum hardware ever since. His first task was connecting two qubits together. Today, with the launch of the 5,000 qubit Advantage system, he summarized the moment best: “Advantage is a watershed moment for D-Wave. We’ve seen the quantum computing industry pass twin inflection points: Firstly, going from science and theory to real-world technology, and secondly, evolving from R&D to real business applications. We went from single qubits to thousands of high-fidelity, highly connected qubits. But it’s not just a hardware change. We’re able to solve business problems people actually care about.”
To learn more about Advantage and gain immediate cloud access to live quantum systems and hybrid solver services that allow users to run problems with up to a million variables in Leap, click here.