Quebec businesses will be able to get help in accelerating their high tech transformation as part of an $18 million government-university initiative designed to link researchers and industry.
“The objective is really to help companies to either start or speed up the digital transformation,” Eric Capelle, chief executive officer of the non-profit Digital and Quantum Innovation Platform (PINQ2), told Research Money. “Or we can even help start-ups in launching new products and services.”
The Ministère de l’Economie et de l’Innovation du Québec has provided $16 million for the high performance computing platform, which will be anchored in Quebec and entirely available via cloud computing. Its partner, the Université de Sherbrooke, contributed $1.6 million for upgrading the computer centre (layout, electricity and cooling) to accommodate the new equipment and to recover the heat to warm university buildings. Private partners put up the balance.
The idea is to bring the different parties together to create an ecosystem where a company can risk expensive innovation, said Capelle.
PINQ2’s target technologies include advanced data analytics. “Most of the time companies have a lot of data but they don't know what they have and how to take benefit of them, so we are developing a set of services around that.”
Initially PINQ2 will focus on the health, energy, environment, and manufacturing sectors, which also aligns with government priorities and the types of companies in the province. Before it launched, PINQ2 met with more than 50 companies to understand what they needed from the organization, he noted.
In the coming months, PINQ2 will offer hybrid computing and access to quantum infrastructure with the platform serving as a place of experimentation to test the applications of quantum computing. Quantum computers can handle computational operations at speeds exponentially higher than conventional computers with much lower energy consumption.
“We are at the very beginning so we are still in discovery phase but the disruption is accelerating,” said Capelle, comparing it to AI (artificial intelligence) research 10 years ago.
However, while Quebec academic researchers are recognized globally for their work in AI, “the transfer of knowledge and expertise between academic and industry is quite slow,” he said.
He added that the government learned from this experience, which is why, this time around, it wants to make sure that companies and industries understand in the early stages what quantum computing can bring to a business. Because quantum computing is expensive, the government’s first step was to invest in the infrastructure in order to lower the cost of access.
“We want to make what we call an affordable technology from a finance perspective,” said Capelle.
The second step is finding the expertise in the academic world and “make them work together with industry and find out what value the industry can get out of it.”
An ecosystem such as PINQ2 can also help with on-the-job training, because it can provide access to quantum computers at a low price. Capelle says he would like to bring in software engineering developers who are already knowledgeable in areas such as AI or machine learning and offer them an opportunity to be trained in quantum engineering and to work on real use cases with the companies.
“After that,” he said, “they can bring the knowledge within the companies.”
Earlier this year, IBM Corp. announced it would build its first Canada-based quantum computer by 2023, partnering with the Quebec government to allow both public and private sector researchers to use the equipment. The two parties are investing $131-million to build the system at IBM’s semi-conductor assembly and testing facility in Bromont, between Montreal and Sherbrooke.