UNIQORN Advances the Next Generation of Quantum Communication Systems


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The multidisciplinary project UNIQORN, which begins this month, will develop quantum technology for the mass market. Quantum communication systems, mostly found in research laboratories, will be squeezed into small and reliable photonic integrated circuits. By carefully laying out each element along the development chain from fabrication to application, the Horizon 2020 project will not only reduce size and cost, but will also bring improvements in terms of robustness and reproducibility.

Quantum communication is recognised as one of the pillars for the second quantum revolution thanks to its unique potential for information-theoretical data security. Turning this promise into tangible assets depends however, on the availability of high-performance, compact and cost-effective modules for practical implementations. The Horizon-2020 project “UNIQORN – Affordable Quantum Communication for Everyone: Revolutionizing the Quantum Ecosystem from Fabrication to Application” was selected for funding by the European Commission within the first call of the H2020 Quantum Flagship. UNIQORN’s goal is to link innovative yet user-oriented research on the quantum frontier with near-future exploitation of early prototype components and system-on-chip implementations in a growing market with vast potential. The project kick-off took place in October 2018.

UNIQORN’s mission is to provide the enabling photonic technology to accommodate quantum communications, by integrating complex systems, which are presently found on metre-size breadboards, into millimetre-size chips. These systems will not only reduce size and cost, but will also bring improvements in terms of robustness and reproducibility.

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Head of High Performance Networks (HPN) group at the University of Bristol said: “The HPN group is an international leader in networks research.  Within the UNIQORN project we have the opportunity to apply our expertise and develop solutions for the future Quantum Communications Networks. We are looking forward to working with quantum experts across Europe to take quantum technologies out from the labs and into real world communications systems and networks”

UNIQORN will be coordinated by Hannes Hübel, scientist and quantum expert at AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. “There is no doubt that this project will help to bridge the Quantum Divide” he says. “By offering cost-optimized quantum technology that follows a similar success story to microelectronics, not only governments and big organisations but also the general public will benefit from the offerings of the Quantum Age.”

Dr Emilio Hugues-Salas, the University of Bristol project co-lead added: “UNIQORN is a very promising project framework which incorporates experts in quantum technologies as well as optical networking. Within this framework, our software and hardware capabilities together with our quantum networking expertise will be leveraged for future designs of real-world quantum network infrastructures and applications.”     

As a 3-year project UNIQORN will develop the key components for quantum communication systems such as true random number generation and secure-key distribution. This includes specialized optical sources and detector technology, which will be realized on mainstream fabrication platforms – similar to those used for the mass fabrication of microelectronics. System-on-chip integration will be an essential part of the research work and will lead to highly miniaturized quantum-optic systems that will unleash the potential of quantum mechanical features such as entanglement and light squeezing. The opto-electronic technology and assembly processes involved have been carefully selected in terms of cost efficiency to deliver ultimate performance for the practical field deployment of quantum technology in the near future.

UNIQORN will make the ambitious leap from quantum “fabrication” to quantum “application” as it evaluates its cutting-edge technology in novel protocols such as one-time programs or oblivious transfer. This will one day enable a wider range of end-users to exploit the power of quantum computing. Experimental activities will include real-world testing in smart-city environments in tandem with a wide range of telecommunication applications.

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