The University of Tokyo and International Business Machines Corp. have started operations of Japan's first commercial-use quantum computer, making a foray into a fiercely competitive field led by the United States and China.
The next-generation system, developed by the U.S. technology company with the university holding exclusive access rights to use it, was set up at Kawasaki Business Incubation Center in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo.
An industry-academia consortium, launched in 2020, including Toyota Motor Corp., Sony Group Corp. and Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. as members, has access to the computer for joint research. It will explore the practical applications of quantum computing and nurture human resources.
The IBM Quantum System One computer system is the second of its kind that IBM has built outside the United States, following one in Germany.
"Fields where quantum computers are put into practical use are expanding widely. I want to convey the achievements to the world," university's President Teruo Fujii said at a ceremony Tuesday to mark the start of the computer's operations.
Quantum computers use quanta, such as particles of light, which have the characteristics of both waves and particles, and can calculate scores of combinations at once, rather than one by one as in conventional computers.
Its ability to solve complex problems at faster speeds than supercomputers is expected to be used for developing new drugs and materials, creating financial models, optimizing logistics and in cryptography, which has become essential for the internet and digital currency.
"It is very significant that a base (for a quantum computer) has been set up in Japan as it will help nurture personnel who will be adept at actually operating it," said Hideyuki Mase, senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute.
He noted many technical challenges remain for the full-fledged operation of quantum computers and the race to develop them has been intensifying globally, led by the United States and China.
"(The base) will help deepen exchanges with experts overseas, including from Asia. It is expected to become a big advantage for Japan as the country promotes research and development" in the field, Mase said.
The Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium that has access to the system also includes Keio University, Hitachi Ltd., Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. and Yokogawa Electric Corp.