Mastering quantum technologies in Europe

Mastering quantum technologies in Europe

There would be significant benefits from advances made via quantum technologies in Europe. However, there are challenges which must be overcome if the EU is to be a leader in this area.

There are numerous benefits to be had from a mastery of quantum technologies in Europe, as both capabilities and performance stand to be enhanced in devices in sectors such as: communications, sensing, computing, metrology, simulations and data security.

According to the European Commission, the many devices and systems that exploit quantum effects can be grouped into three categories:

  • Computers/simulators;
  • Communication systems; and
  • Sensors/measuring devices.

The Digital Single Market (which is discussed extensively by DG CONNECT’s Geraard de Graaf elsewhere in this publication) thus places significant emphasis on quantum technologies.

The Commission states: ‘Quantum technologies is an umbrella term for all technologies that make use of quantum phenomena to achieve new goals. Quantum effects are now beginning to be apparent as feature sizes approach the atomic scale and make improvements in the performance of conventional ICT more difficult. Research into the behaviour of matter at the atomic scale has opened up possibilities for new kinds of ICT which exploit the behaviour that single particles exhibit under suitable conditions.’

It adds: ‘Quantum theory has fundamentally changed our understanding of how light and matter behave at extremely small scales. For example, objects can be in different states at the same time (‘superposition’) and can be deeply connected without direct physical interaction (‘entanglement’).

‘The second quantum revolution takes quantum theory to its technological consequences. It is leading to devices with fundamentally superior performance and capabilities for sensing, measuring, imaging, communication, simulation and computing. Some are starting to be commercially exploited. Others may still require years of careful research and development. Yet others we cannot even imagine today.’

The Quantum Flagship

As such, the Commission is placing a strategic focus on quantum technologies in Europe with, for instance, the Quantum Technology Flagship, which started in September 2016, being launched in October this year within Horizon 2020.

After the Graphene Flagship and the Human Brain Project, the Quantum Flagship is the third large-scale research and innovation initiative of this kind funded by the European Commission. It will start in 2019. According to the Flagship’s website, it is ‘a large-scale initiative funded at the €1bn level on a 10 year timescale. It consists of a coherent set of research and innovation projects selected through a thorough peer-review process. Calls for projects are issued based on the Flagship’s Strategic Research Agenda, thus ensuring that all actors are aligned in the pursuit of the Flagship’s goals.

‘The goal is to consolidate and expand European scientific leadership and excellence in this research area, to kick-start a competitive European industry in Quantum Technologies and to make Europe a dynamic and attractive region for innovative research, business and investments in this field.’

‘The long-term horizon,’ the Flagship adds, ‘is a ‘Quantum Web’: Quantum computers, simulators and sensors interconnected via quantum networks distributing information and quantum resources such as coherence and entanglement.

‘On the corresponding time scale – which is in fact longer than 10 years – the performance increase resulting from Quantum Technologies will yield unprecedented computing power, guarantee data privacy and communication security, and provide ultra-high precision synchronisation and measurements for a range of applications available to everyone locally and in the cloud.’

Real impact

In a 2017 blog post on the topic, European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, explained that the second quantum revolution ‘will mean totally new concepts for devices with a real practical impact.

‘Some need a relatively short time to move from lab to market and are already in the commercialisation stage. Others are more complex and require years of painstaking research and development to come to fruition. Some we cannot even imagine yet. The range of potential applications is almost unlimited.’

Ansip also focused on three key areas which stand to benefit: quantum sensors (he said: ‘enhanced sensitivity devices that can be used for biomedical imaging, to measure spaces underground, to locate mineral deposits’); ultra-precise clocks (‘for use in smart energy grids or to timestamp financial transactions; handheld devices to assist maritime navigation,’ Ansip explained); and quantum communications, about which he stated: ‘quantum physics allows for generating truly random numbers – the base for any encryption scheme. By using the properties of individual photons to exchange encryption codes, snooping is made impossible.’

Industrial leadership

Mentioning the Quantum Flagship as one of the ways in which Europe is ‘getting ahead of the race’ on quantum technologies in Europe, the Commissioner explained that this is designed to ‘turn Europe’s already excellent quantum research results into industrial leadership’ as a part of the Commission’s strategy for digitising European industry.

He went on: ‘Quantum technology is high up on many company and government agendas, where it is viewed as economically and politically strategic to get involved. But while Europe has many world-class scientists in this field, there is so far little industrial take-up or commercial exploitation here. We need to raise our own involvement, backed by a solid political and financial commitment.

‘Since EU countries as well as the European Commission have been investing in quantum over the past two decades – more than €500m – we are in a fairly good position for the future.’

Yet, Europe must develop a coherent pan-European strategy for quantum technologies in Europe if it is to play a leading role on the global stage moving forwards. As Commissioner Ansip said in his blog, ‘the alternative is to be dominated by companies in other countries; Asia and the United States, for example.’

Progress is being made here, with a report for the high-level expert group on quantum technologies in Europe being handed to the Commission in November, representing a step in the right direction.

The Commissioner concluded: ‘The main aims of the quantum flagship [are]: to develop a dynamic environment for quantum research and innovation where ideas can progress smoothly from lab to market; to attract world-class talent to Europe and keep it there; and to consolidate our lead in this exciting technology.’

Quantum technologies in Europe: EU policy

A recent report entitled ‘The impact of quantum technologies on EU’s future policies part 2 – Quantum Communications: from science to policies’, by Martino Travagnin and Adam Lewis at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) argued that ‘Quantum physics yields cryptographic applications which are expected to contribute to communications security, in particular by providing protection against attacks by future quantum computers. Technology development programmes in quantum communications, including the deployment of quantum networks, are therefore being funded worldwide. Europe should accelerate the industrial uptake of its scientific knowledge in the field.’

The report states that it is widely held that standardisation and certification procedures must be agreed at supranational level and use-cases of interest to private businesses must be elaborated if the market for quantum cryptography technologies is to be opened up.

According to the authors, ‘measures should also be taken to break disciplinary boundaries, e.g. by establishing working groups including, alongside quantum specialists, also experts on conventional security and telecom engineers, and by deploying pilot quantum networks to be used both as testing grounds by researchers and as demonstrators for possible users. To enhance market pull, the EU should also consider acting as an early adopter, in fields such as e-government, infrastructure protection, or in the common defence policy area. Existing EU networks could be upgraded to accommodate photonic services and quantum cryptography, and new backbones should start to be planned in co-ordination with national initiatives already underway. It must also be taken into account that at the moment Europe is critically dependent on foreign vendors for some high-tech components that hold a large share of the economic value of a quantum communications system: the EU, and in particular DG GROW, should therefore consider funding manufacturing pilot lines for quantum devices, flanking the ones already set up in the framework of its actions concerning photonics as a key enabling technology.’

Legislative measures

The report also highlights the need for legislative measures to be taken in order to address the issue of fragmentation that we see in Europe today, something which the JRC report says ‘severely affects security and defence industries’. ‘It is essential to embed quantum cryptography in policy agendas already being pursued,’ the report adds, such as the DG Migration and Home Affairs programme ‘Industry for Security’.

By including quantum cryptography in the negotiation of free trade agreements or in the ongoing revision of the regulation of dual-use technologies exports, carried on by DG for Trade, limitations to export should can be reduced, while barriers to commerce such as country-specific regulations should be eliminated and measures to protect European know-how as industries try to enter difficult markets, ‘notably the Chinese one’, also need to be taken, the report adds.

Policy recommendations

The authors include several specific policy recommendations for quantum technologies in Europe in their report.

These include:

• ‘The EC should consider including quantum-safe requirements in policies regarding communication privacy, long-term data security and infrastructure protection’
• ‘The European Commission (EC) should promote further work on quantum cryptography standards, encourage user-engagement and early adoption, and stimulate the study of business-cases’
•‘The EC should consider fostering the development of a shared and accessible fibre infrastructure to test quantum-based security solutions jointly with conventional and post-quantum cryptography in a realistic environment’
•‘The European Commission should reinforce its collaborations with ESA to verify the possibility of integrating quantum communications in the existing programmes, such as Galileo’
•‘Policies aimed at achieving more symmetry and reciprocity with China should be designed and enforced to ensure proper applications of trade agreements. Specific instruments to support SMEs in the Chinese market should be developed’

‘The EC should remain aware that the deployment of new lawful interception techniques, effective against strong cryptography, must be constantly balanced against privacy rights and potential cybersecurity risks’

It is clear from this report – and, indeed, from the comments by Commissioner Ansip and the work that is taking place both in the Digital Single Market and the Quantum Technologies Flagship – that progress is being made to ensure Europe plays a leading role in this area moving forwards. And with digital playing such a fundamental role across policy areas at the European level, the joined-up activities we are now witnessing are placing the EU in a prime position for success with quantum technologies in Europe.

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