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Charting the quantum frontier with UK industry

Posted 13 Mar 2024

The culmination of our first Quantum Technology Access Programme (QTAP) was a special moment. We had the pleasure and privilege to work with 11 companies, including Airbus, Rolls-Royce and the UKAEA, on their journey from quantum computing theory to hands-on work. The final showcase in February 2024 gave all the participants the chance to present what they’d learned on their journey with Digital Catapult, including the results of running quantum computing use cases on the ORCA Computing PT-1 photonic quantum computing, or simulating them on a Riverlane estimation tool.

It’s no secret that quantum computing promises to deliver significant business benefits in the future by enabling calculations simply not feasible with classical methods. It’s also no secret that quantum computing is at an early stage of development. Our programme was designed to give our far-sighted cohort the opportunity to explore and understand future business impacts of the new technology, which has the potential to be highly disruptive. For me, it was a special experience to join our participants on their journeys, supporting and encouraging these organisations to embrace a new technology that could have significant potential in their respective industries.

QTAP is part of a wider Innovate UK Industry Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) funded project called Quantum Data Centre of the Future, which aims to embed a quantum computer within a classical data centre to explore real world access to a quantum computer.

A keen interest in quantum computing for industry

The programme was oversubscribed. We received 73 expressions of interest and 36 applications, a real testament to the strength of interest in industry right now to understand more about quantum computing. With this strong appetite, and a great set of proposed use cases from all the applicants, it was challenging to select the final 11 participants.

An exciting journey, culminating in a successful showcase

We are in the world of the Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) devices, which can run hybrid algorithms, where a classical computer trains a quantum device (read more about NISQ here). In the future we will see large, universal, fault tolerant quantum computers which are able to run any algorithm, and errors in the physical qubits are corrected by quantum error correction before the logical qubits are corrupted. The QTAP participants were able to gain experience of either the NISQ era or fault tolerant algorithms.

We asked all participants to commit to 8 to 10 hours a week for five months, a level of commitment that we recognised is challenging for many in industry. In fact, many of our participants spent far more time than that on the programme and, as a result, produced some great work.

Initially participants received quantum computing training and education, partly from Q-Ctrl’s Black Opal training tool, and partly from Digital Catapult’s own in-house training courses. Working with the participants and experts from our partners, ORCA Computing and Riverlane, we triaged the use cases into one of three streams, the fault tolerant stream led by Riverlane; and two NISQ era streams, covering quantum machine learning and quantum optimisation, led by ORCA Computing.

The organisations in the NISQ streams gained hands-on experience of the ORCA Software Development Kit (SDK) by simulating their use cases. At an earlier Demo Day at ORCA, scaled down versions of five use cases were run on an ORCA PT-1 experimental prototype.

In the fault tolerant stream participants learnt how the Quantum Singular Value Transformation Algorithm (QSVT) can be used on future fault tolerant quantum computers for a wide range of applications.

The final showcase was an amazing opportunity for the participants to share learnings with each other, and with other stakeholders including venture capitalists, other end users, academics and government. The participants reported that QTAP had been a very valuable experience and it had been really helpful to be able to work with other companies, and with experts from ORCA, Riverlane and Digital Catapult.

Relevant use cases for real problems

The participants contributed a wide range of use cases from industry.

Combinatorial optimization using the ORCA PT-1

  • Bahut optimised last mile logistics by minimising the distance travelled by a courier.
  • DNV and Frazer-Nash both tackled the Unit Commitment Problem to meet electricity demand at a minimum total cost.
  • ARUP worked on a Bridge Deck loading problem to identify the most dangerous configuration of traffic.
  • UKAEA carried out an innovative piece of work to prune a Physics Inspired Neural Network with the aim of eventually reducing the computational cost of modelling uncertainty propagation in a nuclear fusion reactor.

Quantum machine learning using the ORCA PT-1

Seer BI and Rolls Royce looked at anomaly detection in very different circumstances.

  • Seer BI attempted to predict when a package would be delivered late.
  • Rolls-Royce looked at predicting transients in a remote nuclear reactor, to be deployed in the future on remote mining colonies, the Moon and Mars.

Fault tolerant computing

  • Airbus researched running Computational Fluid Dynamics on a quantum computer.
  • Oxford Sigma looked at using the same techniques for Magnetohydrodynamics Modelling.
  • Neptune New Space looked at the feasibility of modelling fluid flows around moving objects.

The UK is a world leader in quantum technology

We partnered with some amazing UK companies on the programme, and from a personal point of view, it was an honour and a privilege to work with some of the world’s leading quantum technologists and our knowledgeable participants.

ORCA Computing’s PT-1 prototype allows flexibility because the objective function for optimisation problems was encoded in a participant-written Python function, rather than in a quadratic unconstrained binary optimisation (QUBO) matrix. Because of this the travelling salesman problem needed few binary variables to run. In other problems, constraints that would have been very tricky to encode in a QUBO matrix were quickly coded using the ORCA SDK. Participants learnt a lot during the Demo Day from running their use cases on the ORCA PT-1 quantum computer.

Dr Christoph Sunderhauf of Riverlane, a world leading quantum scientist, gave excellent presentations on the Quantum Singular Value Transformation Algorithm (QSVT). The participants consolidated learnings from the presentation by working through some great Python Notebooks written by Christoph. During the Demo Day, Riverlane used its Riverlane Delta Discover tool to calculate the quantum computing resources needed to invert matrices supplied by the participants.

BT, PQ Shield, and KETs delivered great Masterclasses on quantum secure communications, and Q-Ctrl, suppliers of the Black Opal training programme, gave a fascinating overview of how its error mitigation technology could accelerate quantum computing. We were delighted to welcome Dr Simon Plant, Head of Innovation at the National Quantum Computing Centre, who gave an informative masterclass explaining the work the NQCC is doing to advance quantum computing in the UK.


We believe that QTAP is more than a successful Technology Access Programme: it has started to build a vibrant UK quantum eco-system by connecting quantum technology suppliers with end users. It has been an incredible experience to be part of the QTAP team, and I am looking forward to the next steps in the quantum journey.


Daniel Goldsmith

Senior Quantum Computing Technologist