UPDATED 21:36 EDT / OCTOBER 22 2019

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IonQ raises $55M to pursue alternative approach to quantum computing

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s Catalyst Fund and Mubdala Capital, a sovereign wealth fund of the United Arab Emirates, are the lead investors in a $55 million round of funding announced today for quantum computing startup IonQ Inc.

New investors ACME Capital, Airbus Ventures, Hewlett Packard Pathfinder, Tao Capital Partners, Correlation Ventures and A&E Investment LLC. Existing backers Osage University Partners, New Enterprise Associates, GV and Amazon.com Inc. also participated in the round, which brings IonQ’s total funding raised to $77 million to date.

IonQ takes a different approach to quantum computing than what many of its competitors are doing, using trapped ions, which are charged particles suspended in a vacuum, as the basis for its hardware. It’s believed that the method has the potential one day to deliver a true, general-purpose quantum computer that would be capable of massive breakthroughs in areas such as medicine, genomics and cryptography, for example.

The approach is an alternative to the superconducting qubits used by the likes of Google LLC, IBM Corp. and Rigetti Computing Inc., a technique that involves using specially designed semiconductors running at extremely low temperatures.

The problem with the superconducting qubit approach is that it doesn’t seem very practical, at least not at this time. Google and IBM’s current quantum computers are contained within large refrigeration units that must be carefully operated in special data centers and accessed remotely via cloud computing.

But IonQ believes it can tap into Samsung’s expertise in miniaturization to shrink its quantum computing components eventually so they’re small enough fit inside the body of a laptop.

“It seems to me if we can put an atomic clock on a chip, there’s no reason why we can’t in the future get an ion trap down to that level,” IonQ Chief Executive Officer Peter Chapman told Fortune in an interview.

Samsung President and Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn compared quantum computing to “foundational and revolutionary technologies” like lasers, mobile phones and transistors, saying it takes years for such innovations to transform the way people live.

“Though it’s still early days, we see a similar revolution taking place with quantum computing, which is why we’re excited to work alongside the IonQ team,” Young said. “Together, we can unlock the vast potential of this technology to address new opportunities in drug discovery, artificial intelligence, breakthrough materials and many other areas.”

IonQ said its next step is to make its quantum computers commercially available via the cloud. It will also use its funds to develop next-generation systems for programming those machines.

Photo: IonQ

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