Quantum technologies Contents

4Continuing the National Programme—Innovation Centres

44.One of the main recommendations made by the Government Office for Science for the National Quantum Technologies Programme was to establish ‘Innovation Centres’ to “go beyond the scope of the current Quantum Technology Hubs, involving the co-location of academic and industrial partners with the requirement for matched funding from industry”.119 Professor Sir Peter Knight, who co-authored the Government Office for Science’s report, expanded upon their planned role:

The Innovation Centres are fulfilling a need that industry has for specialist facilities. Currently, the smaller companies may not have those. If the bigger companies have them, they do not have the time to invest in them [… The Centres] will be a single place where industry can come to test some of the demonstrators that have already started to come out of the existing phase 1 programme […] The Innovation Centres will bring together in one place the industrial users—the people who have the application—the researchers who developed the original lab-scale proof-of-principle demonstrators and, ideally, the skilled workers who are coming through both the skills hubs and the Centres for Doctoral Training.120

Professor John Morton, Director of the UCL Quantum Science and Technology Institute, described a similar role for what he wanted to see from the Innovation Centres.121

45.We heard wide support for the establishment of Innovation Centres, with a range of benefits that they could deliver identified by witnesses including the Institute of Physics and BT.122 Several witnesses shared Professor Knight’s vision that Innovation Centres could provide the shared facilities required by industry (such as manufacturing, testing and validation equipment),123 as well as representing physical focal points bringing together researchers, innovators, businesses, a skilled workforce and others, and around which supply chains could consolidate.124 BT told us that Innovation Centres should additionally provide market analysis and business support services to those trying to develop finished commercial products.125 Professor Ian Walmsley, Director of the Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub, added that Innovation Centres could support innovative start-up companies by acting as a client for intermediate technologies:

How do [start-up] companies find a business model for an instrument or a machine that is still 10 years in the future? For us, part of the answer is that if there is a national centre for quantum computing—one of these innovation centres where such a device is built—it becomes a business model for both the hardware and software companies to be involved.126

46.QuantIC, the national Hub for quantum-enhanced imaging, told us that “integration of the Hubs with Innovation Centres is essential to avoid the creation of artificial barriers in the technology development and innovation pipeline”.127 Professor Tim Spiller, Director of the Quantum Communications Hub, similarly warned that the separate roles of the existing Hubs and any new Innovation Centres might hinder the development of quantum technologies through to commercial application:

I have two cautionary issues with separate Innovation Centres. The first one is that I remember when Innovate UK was called the Technology Strategy Board and they focused on the very high technology levels and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council focused on the very low ones and there was a big gap in the middle. I am afraid that if we have Innovation Centres and Hubs that are focused on research and innovation, there is a danger of that gap […] The other issue with separate [Hubs and Centres] is that you have many interface points where you do tech transfer between a Hub or an academic group and an Innovation Centre and someone has to manage all of those transfer points if there are going to be separate entities.128

QuantIC’s Programme Manager, Dr Sara Diegoli, agreed that Professor Spiller’s concerns were legitimate, but told us that “if the Hubs are maintained in the current translational role and they are not moved in their remit towards the science basis, that interface could be made to work between the Hubs and the Innovation Centres”.129 Professor Spiller indicated that the National Programme could overcome the potential challenges he had identified, but that it would require co-ordination and alertness to the problem.130 Professor Kai Bongs, Director of the Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology, outlined a similar vision:

What is very, very important is that [Innovation Centres] enable smooth links between the academic-funded programme of the quantum Hubs and the industry side […] so that they fill in gaps and we have intrinsically interlinked participation from both the industry and the academic sides, which could be by personnel or by co-location.131

47.Professor Cross told us that there was “an enduring logic” to the four application areas around which the Hubs were organised, and suggested that although there “might not be 100% alignment with the Hubs”, “it is not a bad idea to think that you need [one or more Innovation Centres] in each of those spaces”.132 The point was made repeatedly, however, that end-users of quantum technologies cared only about the performance of a product using quantum technology, rather than the underlying technology.133 In keeping with this, BT told us that Innovation Centres should be established to address specific industry sectors, rather than focusing on specific quantum technologies.134 Dr Mark Bentall, Head of Technology Development and Innovation at Airbus Defence and Space, confirmed that “from a system integrator point of view, our focus is quite narrowly on our market”.135 Illustrating that multiple quantum technologies could offer useful applications in a single sector, BT told us that “there is already a line of sight to exploitation in the telecoms sector for quantum key distribution, quantum clocks and timing and quantum sensing solutions”.136 They acknowledged, however, that a sector-based approach may not be appropriate for less mature quantum technologies.137

48.Another point of discussion regarded where Innovation Centres should be sited. Although the importance of good co-ordination between the Hubs and the Innovation Centres was emphasised by many witnesses, Professor Knight clarified that “it should not be assumed that the Innovation Centres will be based at the Hubs”.138 Indeed, Teledyne e2v told us that it was their “firm opinion that some of these [Innovation] Centres should be located close to industry rather than as extensions of University activity and the current Hubs”, as:

In turning the science into products and services from which we can make money, a huge amount of intellectual property as well as manufacturing capability will come out of the industrial base. A lot of industries, and sometimes that includes small and medium-sized enterprises too, are more comfortable working with industrial partners, because the culture is much more driven towards getting those products produced in a way that can be sold and used.139

Professor Bongs agreed that there would be an advantage in Innovation Centres being located close to areas of existing manufacturing capability, in particular.140 Professor Walmsley noted, however, that “the character of the Innovation Centres and the specific location could be quite different” across the different application areas that they targeted, highlighting in particular the long-term approach that would be required for quantum computing.141 Indeed, the need for different Innovation Centres to play different roles and operate differently in different sectors was made clear to us throughout our inquiry.142

49.UK Research and Innovation told us that “the establishment of Innovation Centres to provide shared resources for innovation in quantum technologies is a priority as we consider how we build on the first phase of the National Programme”.143 However, Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UKRI, clarified that the plans for Innovation Centres had evolved since they were first recommended in 2016, and argued that the focus should be on providing “environments where industry and academia can work together” rather than delivering new “bricks and mortar”.144

50.The announcement of funding for the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme in the 2018 Budget detailed only “£35m to support a new national quantum computing centre” and made no reference to Innovation Centres.145 Professor Walport told us in September 2018 that UKRI was “very interested” to see what proposals for Innovation Centres would come forward from industry.146 The Minister, Sam Gyimah MP, agreed and added that “we should leave space for industry to shape how the Innovation Centres, or whatever we call them, evolve”.147 Professor Walmsley, however, warned us that although the timing for decisions on the Innovation Centres was not “as critical as for the Hubs”, their planning nevertheless “ought to move rapidly […] we need to be getting that on the agenda”.148

51.We agree with UK Research and Innovation that the establishment of Innovation Centres is a “priority” for the National Programme going forward. The announcements made confirming the extension of the National Quantum Technologies Programme into a second phase did not, however, reference Innovation Centres and proposed something comparable only in the quantum computing domain. Although the new quantum computing centre is welcome, it is worth noting that quantum computing is the quantum technology furthest from market. The drive to advance technologies from the existing Hubs towards greater market readiness—for example, through an Innovation Centre or Innovation Centres—would therefore appear to be most urgent for other quantum technologies.

52.The second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme should establish Innovation Centres to provide access to facilities for developing, manufacturing, testing and validating quantum technologies, as well as to act as focal points around which collaboration and supply chains can consolidate. This will require Innovation Centres to exist, at least in part, as physical centres rather than as ‘virtual networks’. Reflecting the need for Innovation Centres to focus on the development of commercial products, Innovation Centres should target specific market sectors rather than reflecting the different types of quantum technologies, although multiple sector-specific Innovation Centres could co-occupy sites where they require the same shared technical facilities. While we support the use of suitable existing infrastructure to house Innovation Centres where it can deliver what is required more quickly and at a reduced cost, this should not dilute the concept of Innovation Centres or weaken the drive to establish them as soon as possible. In its response to this Report, the Government should confirm its intention to set up Innovation Centres and outline how many it intends to establish, which sectors they will cover and what the timeline is for their establishment. The Executive Board must ensure that there is good co-ordination between the new Innovation Centres and the Hubs and ensure that technologies are supported through research, development and commercialisation and to provide strategic oversight so that activities in Innovation Centres and Hubs complement each other.

Learning from the Catapult Centres

53.With a focus on developing technology-based economic opportunities through shared facilities and physical centres for convening relevant stakeholders, the proposed Innovation Centres share similarities with the ‘Catapult Centres’ that already exist (see footnote for description of Catapult Centres).149 An independent review of the Catapult Centres concluded in 2017 that although “the concept of Catapults is sound” and the Centres had achieved some success, they could have delivered greater impact had they started with a clear statement of purpose, and been subject to stronger governance mechanisms, with clearer objectives, defined performance measures and more responsive decision-making.150 It made several recommendations, including for:

54.The proposed Innovation Centres bear resemblance to the Catapult Centres that already exist. The Government, UK Research and Innovation, and the new Executive Board of the National Quantum Technologies Programme should ensure that the planning of Innovation Centres incorporates lessons learned from the experience and assessment of the Catapult Centres. The Innovation Centres should have clear purpose statements, measurable objectives and be subject to periodic performance assessment.

The national quantum computing centre

55.As already mentioned, the funding for the second phase of the National Quantum Technologies Programme included £35m for the establishment of a new national quantum computing centre, which appears to be comparable to an Innovation Centre in this field.152 Professor Ian Walmsley, Director of the Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub, advocated such a centre as part of a national effort to build a quantum computer:

This is an area that is analogous to a moon shot: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the UK right at the forefront […] It is an area where significant new investment could reap very important and broad long-term rewards. That will involve not just academic institutions but Government centres that will be the places where quantum computers exist, much as the early-stage [conventional] computers did. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for new-stage companies to build the engineering expertise that is needed to drive this technology, both in hardware and, importantly, in software. The co-location of that hardware and software development seems to us to be a real opportunity for the nation.153

The importance of developing software as well as hardware for a quantum computer was raised by other witnesses,154 with Dr Ashley Montanaro, of the University of Bristol, telling us that this aspect had been “under-represented” in the first phase of the National Programme.155

56.We welcome the Government’s decision to fund a new national centre for quantum computing. The new national quantum computing centre should focus on the development of software for quantum computers as well as hardware.

119 Government Office for Science, ‘The Quantum Age: technological opportunities’ (2016), p13

122 For example, see: QuantIC (QUT0002), paras 22–23; Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (QUT0006), para 3; UCL Quantum Science and Technology Institute (QUT0008), para 6; Institute of Physics (QUT0010), para 12; Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology (QUT0013); Teledyne e2v (QUT0016); UK Diamond Quantum Technology Community Informal Group (QUT0025); BT Group (QUT0032), para 1; Qq260 and 288

123 QuantIC (QUT0002), para 23; Qq100 and 211

124 QuantIC (QUT0002), para 22; Institute of Physics (QUT0010), para 12; Quantum Technology Hub for Sensors and Metrology (QUT0013); BT Group (QUT0032), para 4; Q41

125 BT Group (QUT0032), para 6

127 QuantIC (QUT0002)

130 Qq148–149 and 159; Professor Walmsley similarly indicated that the addition of Innovation Centres to the National Quantum Technologies Programme was one reason why the Programme would benefit from a co-ordinating, executive governing body—Q255

131 Q242; the Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub similarly told us that “the proposed continuation of the Technology Hubs and the creation of the new Innovation Centres should include close coordination between the two entities”—Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (QUT0006), para 10.4

133 For example, see: Qq142, 147 and 188

134 BT Group (QUT0032), para 4

136 BT Group (QUT0032), para 5

137 BT Group (QUT0032), para 5

139 Teledyne e2v (QUT0016) and Q287

142 For example, see: Qq100, 152, 154, 242, 246, 270 and 290

143 UK Research and Innovation (QUT0023), para 19

145 HM Treasury, ‘Budget 2018’ (2018), para 4.20; ‘New funding puts UK at the forefront of cutting edge quantum technologies’, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, accessed 12 November 2018

149 There are ten sector-specific Catapult Centres, administered by Innovate UK to “transform the UK’s capability for innovation”; they are physical centres providing a focal point for businesses, scientists and engineers as well as access to expert technical capabilities, equipment, and other resources for supporting innovation—’About Catapult’, Innovate UK, accessed 8 November 2018

150 Ernst & Young LLP, ‘UK SBS PS17086 Catapult Network Review’ (2017)

151 Ernst & Young LLP, ‘UK SBS PS17086 Catapult Network Review’ (2017), pp14–15

152 HM Treasury, ‘Budget 2018’ (2018), para 4.20; see also Q271

153 Q231; see also Qq246–247

154 Dr Ashley Montanaro et al. (QUT0005); Q83–84

Published: 6 December 2018