The South African Quantum Technology Initiative (SA QuTI), headed by the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), does not intend to directly take on the major international quantum technologies competitor countries. “South Africa cannot compete with the billions of euros invested in quantum technology development in other countries,” notes Wits School of Physics Structured Light Laboratory director and WitsQ director Distinguished Professor Andrew Forbes. “That is why we have to be strategic by bringing together our quantum community – research, academia, government and industry – to save decades in time and money.”
Wits has already established its own WitsQ quantum research initiative. “We are regarded as world leaders in high-dimensional entanglement, we have unique experimental facilities, and our WitsQ initiative is home to an enthusiastic quantum community that has no traditional discipline boundaries,” he points out.
Wits is the first African partner in leading US quantum technology company IBM Research’s IBM Q Network. This gives the Johannesburg-based university access to a 50-qubit quantum computer. And under the SA QuTI, WitsQ has been awarded seed funding of R2-million.
“I am very excited that WitsQ has some seed funding so that we can grow our internal community to leverage off the national programme,” he enthuses. “We plan to use the funds to grow the Wits quantum community by seeding small projects, and bringing new students into the fold.”
The SA QuTI has three primary foci – quantum communications, quantum computing and quantum sensing. For each of these focus areas there will be one flagship project, each of which will move from science through to technology, so permitting faster uptakes by commercial partner companies.
“The philosophy of SA QuTI is to side-step the competition,” explains Forbes. “Take the smartphone industry: you don’t have to be a smartphone manufacturer to be part of the smartphone revolution – the economy of smartphone apps is huge, perhaps even bigger than the phone industry itself (think Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and so on). We see an analogous situation in quantum. In quantum computing, for instance, we will not be building a quantum computer but rather develop ‘quantum apps’, a faster and cost-effective way to make an impact that leverages our capabilities in software development.”