updated 05:15 pm EST, Tue December 20, 2011
Computers could use cheap commercial components
The US Air Force is developing quantum computers that use holograms to carry data for calculations. The project is in the conceptual stage, but if practical, could pave the way for future generations of computational devices, MIT's Technology Review said. The technology is also attractive because it holds the promise that the super fast computers can be built with off-the-shelf components.
Quantum computers leverage light to transport information for processing. To improve the efficiency by which the light photons process the data, scientists use interferometers, instruments which superimpose the light waves. The problem is that these devices are subject to frequent calibration, and cascading them in a scalable array for computational purposes becomes problematic.
USAF researchers have a potential solution. Instead of using the actual interferometers, they propose using holograms of the instruments and store them in tempered glass. The resulting holographic stacks are much more stable than their physical counterparts and better suited for performing quantum calculations. The process could be performed using a commercially available, and hence relatively inexpensive, holographic material called OptiGrate.
There are several obstacles that limit the practicality of the solution. The first is that holograms require a certain volume for each calculation, but quantum computers scale calculations exponentially. This creates a scaling challenge. Also,the holographic images are write once only, much as data can be burned to a DVD only once. Scientists will have to develop the equivalent of DVD-RW media. Despite these challenges, scientists are optimistic that this research could lead to a new wave of quantum computers.