Honeywell International Inc.’s decision to merge its Broomfield quantum-computing division — Honeywell Quantum Solutions — into a new company after merging it with U.K.-based Cambridge Quantum Computing should bring some valuable economic development to the region: a potential public offering, a need for additional space and jobs.
Lots of jobs.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Honeywell (Nasdaq: HON) announced this week that it would merge its quantum subsidiary with Cambridge, creating a new entity that will be co-located in Broomfield and Cambridge. Honeywell will retain 54% ownership of the combined operation, investing up to $300 million in the venture.
The combined company initially will employ about 350 people, with about 140 in Broomfield.
But that’s just for starters.
“There’s going to be hundreds of people who we’re going to end up bringing in,” said Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions and slated to be president of the new entity, which has not yet been named.
Uttley said quantum computers are extremely sensitive, requiring multidisciplinary and multifunctional skillsets from team members.
“When you’re building a quantum computer, its environment becomes as important as the quantum computer itself,” he said. “The quantum computer becomes an exceptional sensor, sensitive to vibrations, humidity, barometric pressure and other factors.
“So you end up having to build an entire facility around it, an infrastructure around it to be able to accommodate the needs of those highly sensitive systems. So our health, safety and environmental folks are as critical to this as our physicists are,” he said. “Our facilities folks who take care of the HVAC are as critical as the engineers. It really becomes this holistic look. So as we add these capabilities, as we add additional quantum computers, it’s really having to grow an entire infrastructure around it to make it successful.”
In Broomfield, Honeywell already operates nine quantum computers in its leased space at 303 S. Technology Court, with each computer taking up about 1,200 square feet. As development of its quantum technology increases, the size of the computers — and the addition of jobs — will require more space, Uttley said.
He declined to specify whether expansion would occur at the current location or elsewhere.
“We are looking at lots of options right now for sure,” he said. “We’ve utilized our space very well, but these quantum computers take a healthy footprint, and they’re not getting smaller right now. That’s not the intent, at least for us. We’ll actually see them increase in size.”
What is quantum computing
Quantum computing differs from classical computers, which compute sequentially, essentially proceeding one step at a time, first one part of a computation, then proceeding to the next part of a computation.
Quantum computers use elements of quantum mechanics such as superpositioning and entanglements to perform computations.
“What quantum is able to do is, think about a problem and look at all of the alternatives of that problem simultaneously,” Uttley said. “So it can evaluate all of the options at the same time, and then select out those that are actually solving the problem.”
Because of that ability, quantum computers can tackle really complex problems “much more quickly than a classical computer ever could,” he said.
Honeywell isn’t alone in working on quantum computers. Technology stalwarts such as IBM Corp. and Google are developing quantum computers using superconducting circuitry, whereas Honeywell employs trapped-ion technology. It takes atoms of ytterbium that are turned into ions by stripping off an electron, giving them a charge, which they can then move around with an electric field, then impart quantum information into those atoms, Uttley said.
But different approaches to quantum computers provide advantages.
“It’s so early in quantum computing that what we’ve already learned is that trapped ions are really good for certain types of applications,” such as chemistry problems and cybersecurity applications, he said.
“Our belief is that there will be applications for which our trapped-ion quantum computers are going to be absolutely perfectly designed. But we also believe that there are going to be applications where Google’s superconducting or IBM’s superconducting or other manufacturers as they bring their computers online, that there is still a lot of room to go do that.”
The Cambridge merger
Uttley said the combination with Cambridge made sense for Honeywell because of a longstanding relationship between the two companies.
“As we’ve been going through this evolution within the technology, we have been working with companies like Cambridge Quantum Computing for years,” Uttley said. “In fact, CQC, we have worked closely with them for the last three years. The first company outside of Honeywell to ever use one of our quantum computers was Cambridge Quantum Computing, and no company, besides Honeywell itself, has had more time on our computers than CQC.
“And so, what that did, was, over that entire time, you get to see deeply what each company brings to the table. You get to see the talent. You get to see what we can go do together both commercially and technically, and there was a tremendous amount of compatibility that just made a ton of sense, just from an overall collaborative-fit perspective.”
Public offering possible
Bloomberg this week said the new company likely would undertake a public offering, and Uttley acknowledged to BizWest that it’s a possibility.
“I would say it like this: All options are being considered right now,” he said, “and we would expect it to be fairly timely. We would know within this calendar year what our likely path is.”
Uttley said various companies had approached Honeywell about investing in the quantum division directly, something that would be facilitated by public status.
“Over the last two years, and in increasing amounts, there were companies that were reaching out to Honeywell to invest directly into Honeywell Quantum Solutions — directly,” he said. “And this doesn’t happen in Honeywell, but it was happening, and it was happening in increasing amounts.”
Part of what was driving that, Uttley said, was excitement about Honeywell’s advances in quantum computing. In March 2020, the company publicly stated that within three months, it would release the world’s highest-performing quantum computer.
“And despite a pandemic, we did exactly that,” he said, with Honeywell releasing its system model dubbed “HO.”
“Then we said, we were going to be increasing the capability, the quantum volume of this computer, by an order of magnitude every year for the next five years. And then, we just started doing it, like machine-work,” he said.
That track record helped drive interest on the part of companies seeking to invest in the quantum operation, he said.
“So we had this big kind of flurry of investors who wanted to participate in this, this high-quality asset,” Uttley said. “We had this interaction that we’ve been having with Cambridge Quantum Computing over time, and what this provides is a way to hyperscale quantum computing, really get to a point where we become the inflection point of quantum.”
Honeywell’s operation in Broomfield dates back to 2016, after the company performed a nationwide search for a location. Uttley said the company has benefited from collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and JILA.
He said those institutions and other private-sector companies should help develop what he called “the Quantum Front Range.”
“I expect that the Quantum Front Range is going to be a real thing, and will be both nationally known and probably globally known as one of the quantum hotspots,” he said.
© 2021 BizWest Media LLC