Quantum computing: A game changer for German innovation

Inside IBM Research
4 min readJun 30, 2021
An IBM Quantum System One installed in Ehningen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany for Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

By Gregor Pillen, general manager IBM Germany, Austria & Switzerland

Excitement. Pride. And, most of all, anticipation. At this month’s unveiling of the Europe’s most powerful quantum computer, IBM Quantum System One, these sentiments came through loud and clear in the words of every speaker.

Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to the occasion as “an excellent flagship for Germany as a location for high tech,” while IBM CEO Arvind Krishna called it “a watershed moment that will greatly benefit German business, industry and society.” And leaders of German businesses lined up to express their hope that quantum computing would transform their future.

The home of IBM Quantum System One is in Ehningen, Baden-Württemberg, but it is clear the ripple effect will be felt much further away. Martin Jetter, Chairman IBM Europe, Middle East & Africa, said that the confluence of business, research organisations and government would make a significant contribution to the future of computing in Germany and throughout Europe. Professor Reimund Neugebauer, President of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, called the project “a model to establish technological sovereignty in the international innovation field that is very competitive.”

Three people integral to the process of bringing IBM to Ehningen are Dr. Heike Riel, IBM Fellow and Quantum Lead at IBM Research Europe, Professor Oliver Ambacher, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF, and Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, Minister for Economy, Labor and Tourism Baden-Württemberg.

At the launch event, they discussed the catalyst effect of IBM Quantum System One across a range of areas — number one being building the necessary skills for our quantum future. “We need clever people,” said Riel, responding to the question of what’s necessary for a successful quantum computing future for the region. Prof. Ambacher, meanwhile, highlighted the easy accessibility of IBM quantum computing training modules for individuals, companies, universities and vocational education institutes, encouraging people to simply go online and sign up. And Hoffmeister-Kraut said that the training of experts in this ecosystem will be a big opportunity that the Baden-Württemberg state intends to seize.

She also cited a study showing that quantum technology could generate as much as 75 billion euros of economic value. As part of its strategy to grasp this opportunity, the German federal government has recently increased investment into quantum technologies by an additional two billion euros. Likewise, funding has also been committed by the state of Baden-Württemberg.

IBM engineers in Germany working on the IBM Quantum System One in Ehningen, Germany, for Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.
IBM engineers in Germany working on the IBM Quantum System One in Ehningen, Germany, for Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

And research is already underway. Ambacher described some of the projects that have been launched, including efforts to improve forecasting of financial markets, simulation of chemical reactions to drive greater energy efficiency, and the creation of optimization algorithms for logistical operations, such as postal services and transport systems.

Also up and running are hardware development projects that explore the possibility of having different categories of quantum computers optimized for specific industrial applications.

Riel explained that a major priority for quantum computing is to identify applications in industry domains where it can really help, beyond existing use cases for conventional computers. Representatives from the commercial sector agree — in fact, quantum applications are already part of the future plans of Bosch, Trumpf, BASF, BMW and Infinion.

During the event, leaders from these organisations gave compelling testimonies covering the potential quantum computing has in their sectors. Projected uses ranged from simulating the atomic structure of materials — potentially reducing their environmental impact — to sensors that are a hundred times more sensitive than today’s models.

And then there is the question of sustainability.

Protecting the environment is a key priority today, and quantum computing promises to play a critical role. Indeed, Hoffmeister-Kraut advocated for IBM Quantum System One to be put to use to help mitigate climate change. Earlier, Winfried Kretschmann, Minister-President of Baden-Wuerttemberg, said that quantum computing could be used to manage decarbonization, what he called one of the mega trends of our time. Another reason to embrace quantum computing is its potential to improve energy efficiency across a range of applications.

For Riel, the launch of Quantum System One at Fraunhofer institute is the first dream for quantum having come true. Her next dream, she said, is to show the quantum advantage over conventional computers. In the not-too distant future that advantage would be put to good use for applications that benefit economy and society.

Watch a replay of the unveiling of the IBM Quantum System One, here.

And on June 30, join a live AMA with IBM Quantum and Fraunhofer scientists to discuss Europe’s most-powerful quantum computer. Set a reminder, here: