Kick-starting its long-awaited journey to become a quantum power, the Cabinet on Wednesday approved India’s National Quantum Mission.
The Rs 6,003.6-crore scheme is set to help India build its capabilities for the new-age technology, which will eventually outperform the classic computers with an astonishing speed in the future. With this, the country has also set a target for developing quantum computers of up to 100 qubits in the next five years.
The government first announced the mission in its 2020 Budget, showcasing its commitment to inject Rs 8,000 crore over a period of five years. The budget has now been lowered down to Rs 6,003.6 crore. According to Union Minister for State Dr Jitendra Singh, this has been done in view of the evolving applications of quantum in the country.
Over the next five years till 2030-31, the Department of Science and Technology will work on developing expertise for the technology, which has far-reaching applications in national security, IT, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, etc. However, the first phase of the mission will focus on quantum computing, quantum communications, quantum sensing and meteorology, and quantum materials and devices. Specialised thematic hubs will be set up across 20 research and educational institutes where the R&D work is currently on.
Even though the technology is still at a very nascent stage and will take many years to mature, experts say it is the golden period for India to get a head-start as the quantum race is heating up globally.
“We certainly do not want to be left behind. Only six countries have developed R&D capabilities for quantum — Finland, Austria, France, China, Canada and the US. And, none of them have reached the application stage yet. So now India will be at par with them. We are not late,” said Singh.
WHAT IS QUANTUM COMPUTING?
With a computing power surpassing that of the mightiest computers currently available, quantum computing is projected to be a game-changer for the world. It can provide an “unhackable” channel of communication, critical for national security, say scientists. The technology makes processing of any kind of information faster, more authentic, precise and secure.
Unlike classical computers, which use bits ‘0’ and ‘1’, quantum computers make use of qubits which are exponentially more powerful. These machines can run 100 trillion times faster than any traditional computer and perform computational tasks that remained inconceivable till now, even predicting the outcome of chemical reactions.
As many as 20 research and educational institutes across the country are already undertaking R&D work in the domain.
WHAT IS INDIA’S PLAN?
India’s target under the mission is to develop intermediate-scale quantum computers with 50 physical qubits in the next three years, up to 100 by five years and 1,000 qubit supercomputers by eight years. It will also lay satellite-based secure quantum communications between ground stations over a range of 1,500 km in three years and about 2,000 km within India in the next five years. The government also plans to use it for cities through optic fibre covering 500 km in five years. It will also develop magnetometers with high sensitivity in atomic systems and atomic clocks for precise timing, and navigation.
“Whether it is telecommunications, electronics, space, or defence, every department needs secure communications which quantum technology can provide. It is an extraordinary science,” Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) Prof Ajay Sood had told News18 in a previous interview. “At the country level, we are not yet ready with next-generation skilled human resources that we need for quantum. It requires very high-end preparedness, and that’s what the main goal of the mission will be.”
This is also likely to spur growth of start-ups across the country, with adequate support for scaling up.
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