Roundup: Europe embarks on ambitious common plan to boost quantum technologies

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The European Union (EU) aims to embark on an ambitious common strategy on quantum technologies, European Commissioner for digital economy and society Gunther Oettinger said here Tuesday.

At a conference which brought together some of the world's leading experts in the field of quantum technology, European scientists and entrepreneurs launched a "Quantum Manifesto" laying out future priorities and activities to create a new "knowledge-based industrial ecosystem" in Europe.

"We aim to launch an ambitious large-scale flagship initiative to unlock the full potential of quantum technologies, accelerate their development, and bring commercial products to public and private users," Oettinger told the conference.

Dutch minister of economic affairs Henk Kamp said at the start of the two-day conference: "Quantum technology has the potential to transform global industries and markets, which will lead to prosperity and sustainable growth for Europe."

Oettinger outlined the Commission's plan to launch a one-billion-euro (1.13 billion U.S. dollars) flagship initiative on quantum technology to support the priorities laid out in the manifesto.

According to the commissioner, the initiative, initially announced in April, will provide the coordinated and long-term strategy needed to support joint science, engineering and application work, including intellectual property research (IPR), standardization, market development, training and public procurement.

Endorsed by a broad community of 3,400 researchers and scientists, the 1-billion-euro project, to be launched in 2018, will be similar in size, timescale and ambition to two existing European flagships, the decade-long graphene flagship and the human brain project.

Apart from quantum computers, the initiative aims at addressing other aspects of quantum technologies, including secure communication, sensing and simulation.

It is expected to include support for relatively near-to-market systems, such as quantum-communication networks, ultra-sensitive cameras and quantum simulators that could help to design new materials. It will also look to the longer term supporting all-purpose quantum computers and high-precision sensors that fit into mobile phones.

Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation program, will play a significant role in funding the Quantum Flagship, as well as other sources at EU and national levels.

Quantum computers have been hailed for their revolutionary potential in several fields ranging from space exploration to cancer treatment. European experts expect quantum technologies will make the leap from research labs to commercial and industrial applications.

"Scientific advances and the urgent need to solve grand challenges related to climate, energy and security will push quantum technologies from the laboratories to industries and markets," the Dutch minister said. "Between now and 2035, quantum technologies will produce a variety of innovations that can be marketed."

Global investment is growing fast as science has reached a level of maturity needed for industrial exploitation. Competition in the field is becoming more intense globally especially due to investments made in the United States and Asian countries.

According to the Dutch minister, the United States is spending 360 million euros (407 million U.S. dollars) on efforts to create a high-performance supercomputer that can support defense activities. High-profile U.S. companies, such as Google, are already investing in quantum computing.

Quantum-technology projects already exist in several EU countries, including the UK Quantum Technologies Programme, and the QuTech initiative in the Netherlands.

Britain has launched an investment program worth 370 million euros for 2014 to 2019. Its aim is to secure a role for the UK in the future quantum technology market. The Netherlands is investing 135 million euros over 10 years.

The EU has increased investment for quantum technologies in the Horizon 2020 Work Program for 2016 to 2017, potentially more than doubling the amount available for research on this topic from 10 million euros to over 20 million euros.

Over the past 15 years, around 250 million euro in EU funds have been invested in projects in the field by Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), a project also supporting research and innovation in quantum technologies.

But experts stressed that more has to be done. As pointed out in the manifesto, there is currently no coherent, large-scale Europe-wide quantum-technologies program comparable with those in the United States and other countries.

The authors warned that if Europe does not embark on a common strategy research and development on quantum technologies, it "risks fragmentation and replication of efforts." (1 euro = 1.13 U.S. dollars) Endit

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