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How Quantum Technology Will Change Engineering

  • by: Sunette Van Aarde
  • On: 5, Dec 2018
3 min read

Technology is changing and becoming more powerful all the time. The phone in your pocket couldn’t have existed ten years ago, there are cars that can drive themselves, ports that can communicate with boats anywhere in the world, and we might soon be taking trips into space. However, all this pales in comparison to quantum technology. 

What is Quantum Technology?

Quantum technology is technology that works with and relies on sub-atomic particles, or physics that operates on the quantum level. It can turn incredibly complex theories into practical applications, making existing technology more efficient or powerful, or creating brand-new machines that couldn’t exist otherwise. The functions of quantum technologies are derived from science that cannot be explained by classical physics, such as Newton's Laws of Motion, thermodynamics or Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism.

How Does Quantum Technology Work?

Some of our most utilised and important technology already works thanks to quantum engineering, such an microprocessors and lasers. It has the potential to further revolutionise the way we communicate, do business and treat illnesses.

Quantum particles behave in strange ways that allow for huge jumps in technology if harnessed correctly. Some of these states are superposition, where a particle exists in two places at once, and entanglement, where two particles can influence each other without interaction.

Certain quantum particles change their state when observed, meaning quantum particles are in a way actively resisting being understood by human beings. Entanglement would create a perfectly secure communications network, with messages only being readable by their intended recipient, and being immediately destroyed if anyone else attempted to read it.

How Can We Use Quantum Technology?

The Quantum Metrology Institute was formed in 2015 to research this technology and work towards practical, commercial uses for quantum technology. The UK government has invested £235 million into the development of quantum technology this year and has predicted that quantum engineering will be worth a billion pounds over the next ten years.

A quantum engineer builds everyday objects using quantum technology. It works through harnessing quantum information in the form of a qubit, or quantum bit. Whereas a standard binary bit can only exist in one of two states, a qubit can exist in both at once, thanks to the superposition phenomenon.

How Will Quantum Technology Impact Engineering?

Quantum computers will be faster, meaning they’ll be able to crack problems, solve equations and enrich our understanding of the universe in ways we can’t yet predict. There’s isn’t a fully operational quantum computer capable of sustaining a quantum state for a prolonged time. IBM has built a 50-qubit computer that can generate and maintain a quantum state for around 90 seconds, which is currently the record.

Normally computers work in a binary system: data is expressed as ones or zeros. Quantum computers work in such a way that ones and zeros can be ones and zeros at the same time. Quantum machines must be kept at extremely low temperatures near absolute zero to be able to maintain quantum states for extended periods.

This has the potential to revolutionise engineering as we know it. Once quantum technology goes mainstream, it will be able to run powerful simulations and solve problems with thousands of variables. Parts will be designed and optimised far faster than today. Materials will be simulated to perform under any conditions, stress tested to a completely accurate degree. This will translate into stronger and more efficient machinery, more capable programmes and higher levels of safety.

Read more about How Engineering Will Change By 2050, or learn about How Engineering Impacts Every Aspect Of Modern Life.

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