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Quantum project awarded ISCF funding

Consortium led by NPL awarded £2.8 million funding in recent Innovate UK competition

A major inter-disciplinary project has been successful in the “Commercialising quantum technology: technology projects round one” funding competition run by Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency, as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

The successful consortium is led by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK’s National Metrology Institute. Key partners are the UK’s leading developers of optical quantum random number generators (QRNGs) – Cambridge Quantum Computing, Crypta Labs, KETS Quantum Security, Nu Quantum, Quantum Dice, Toshiba Europe Limited – and Swiss market-leader ID Quantique. Academic expertise is provided by University of York and University of Kent. The Quantum Communications Hub, through its partnership resource, previously helped to fund a feasibility study on QRNG assurance, which served as the model underpinning this new programme of work.

Data is one of the world’s most valuable commodities, it affects every person, company and government, everywhere. Most of the world’s cybersecurity infrastructure is based on the exchange and use of digital cryptographic keys; random number generators (RNGs) are essential to this infrastructure and newer technologies such as quantum key distribution.

Current tests for random number generators can give information about the statistical properties of their output but cannot assure that the output is unknown to others. There is currently no process that can assure that the numbers generated are unique and hence unpredictable, which potentially compromises security.

Quantum random number generators (QRNGs) utilise the inherent randomness of natural physical processes to create their output, assured unique to each device if the process is quantum. They are thus superior to RNGs as they produce truly random numbers, with no risk of the same random sequence being produced by identically manufactured and prepared QRNGs.

A method for providing authoritative certification of the unique randomness produced by QRNGs does not currently exist. Modelling and experimentally testing the physical process used to create a QRNG’s output can be used to evidence its quantum nature, and hence its randomness and uniqueness. This ISCF project will address this lack of certification, supported by an additional £1.6m of co-funding from the industrial partners and complementary research in the EPSRC Quantum Communication Hub.

Significantly, and with National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) as an associate partner, the project will also help address concerns raised by this UK Government agency about these devices, paving the way for certifying this technology through a UK-established assessment process.

Dr Rhys Lewis, Head of NPL’s Quantum Metrology Institute stated: “We are very pleased that this project has been chosen for funding within the ISCF quantum programme. The aim of this project is to bring together NPL measurement expertise with industrial and academic partners to develop an authoritative assessment process for improved random number generators based on quantum effects. This is critical for creating a certification process which can provide confidence in the application of these new devices. This project is a great example of the test and evaluation capability which NPL is developing for a range of quantum technologies.”

Dr Pete Thompson FREng, NPL’s CEO said: “The UK is ideally placed to emerge as a global leader in quantum technologies and at NPL our metrology is crucial in realising the benefits that quantum can offer. I am delighted that the expertise and knowledge of our quantum physicists will be contributing to all three ISCF calls (feasibility, collaborative R&D and technology), and across all five technical themes of computing (hardware and software), communications, sensors and timing, imaging and components.”

Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director, UKRI, said: “This important project brings together the world-class expertise of NPL with industry and academic partners, and is a good illustration of the vibrancy of the emerging quantum technology sector. It also is a good example of the impact quantum technologies will have on our economy and export opportunities – in this case cybersecurity and the development of quantum random number generators.”

22 Jun 2020