UPDATED: Province commits $17m to new Surrey quantum computing institute

Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus, where the Quantum Algorithms Institute will be housed | Shutterstock

What happened: The B.C. government is putting down $17 million over five years for a new quantum computing centre in Surrey

Why it matters: B.C. is home to two notable quantum computing firms, putting pressure on the province to find qualified talent

The province is committing $17 million over five years towards a new quantum computing institute at Surrey’s Simon Fraser University campus.

The creation of the Quantum Algorithms Institute is part of a government effort to build out what it calls a second downtown for the Lower Mainland.

B.C. Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley, said the institute will be housed by SFU but its partnership model includes all B.C. post-secondary institutions and quantum computing companies already established in the province.

“This is only a beginning and we will attract much more once this institute is up and running,” said Ralston.

The institute will first operate out of existing infrastructure, either on campus or in nearby buildings, said SFU president and vice-chancellor Andrew Petter. Should the institute expand, Petter said a new building may be required.

Speaking at the relatively new campus atrium, Petter cited the vision of the late campus architect and visionary Bing Thom who wanted to transform Surrey from “struggling suburb to a dynamic city centre.”

Petter said the quantum computing sector is attracting youth and young adults and so, with Surrey having the province’s highest and fastest youth population, the location fits into the institute’s needs and goals.

The institute is said to be the first brick laid on an envisioned “innovation corridor” in Surrey, said Premier John Horgan.

“Working with our partners, we will create an innovation hub where companies and talent will cluster, supporting our goal of a strong, sustainable economy that benefits the entire province,” Horgan said via a statement.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said the city is on pace for record growth this year with $1.6 billion in building permits issued in the first three quarters of 2019.

Ralston said quantum computing will be important for supply chain logistics, medical research, transportation and materials development, among other things. McCallum said quantum computing has already been deployed by the city in one pilot project for a driverless bus.

The Quantum Algorithms Institute is creating a new graduate degree program in quantum computing — an initiative the province said would help secure more B.C. talent for the sector.

“Undergraduate students in science, tech, engineering and mathematics will have a unique opportunity to continue their education in graduate studies with a focus on quantum computing,” said Petter.

B.C. is already home to notable quantum computing firms such as Burnaby-based D-Wave Systems Inc., which has developed commercial computers for the likes of Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE:LMT) and NASA, and Vancouver software developer 1Q Information Technologies, Inc. (1QBit).

Landon Downs, president of 1QBit, said in a statement that his company would be working with the institute to help train students in quantum computing.

While standard computers make calculations using two bits — ones and zeros — quantum computers rely on units known as qubits.

Those qubits possess a superposition, allowing them to be one and zero at the same time to calculate all possible values in one operation.

To date, D-Wave has raised more than $200 million in funding for its technology.

1QBit, meanwhile, has been bolstered by funding from Fujitsu Ltd. (TYO:6702), which led a $45 million Series B funding round for the quantum software firm in 2017.

Fujitsu Intelligence Technology Ltd. CEO Naoko Yoshizawa told Business in Vancouver over the summer that the multimillion-dollar investment helped inform her company’s decision to set up its global artificial intelligence headquarters on the West Coast.

“They will be active in this institute as well,” said Ralston.

The new office sits across the street from 1QBit’s headquarters on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver and Yoshizawa sits on the software firm’s board.

Last year’s opening of the Fujitisu office marks the first time the world’s fourth-largest IT services provider has taken a core technology division outside of Japan.

In this case, Fujitsu’s quantum-inspired digital chip — or digital annealer technology — is being used for computing calculations that would have otherwise been impractical a few years ago.