Quantum theory was one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century and has led to the development of some of today’s most widely-used and lucrative technologies. Our understanding of the way light and matter behave at a fundamental level helped develop the flash memory on our mobile phones and computers, the superconductors in our MRI machines, the lasers in our barcode scanners, and the LEDs in our screens. The worldwide semiconductor industry alone, which fundamentally depends on quantum science, is today estimated to be worth almost £200 billion.
A new generation of quantum technologies has moved beyond simply exploiting naturally occurring quantum effects. They are now driving and enabling a new generation of hitherto impossible devices and systems from breathtakingly powerful medical imaging devices to entirely new methods of computing to solve currently intractable problems – all made possible by the engineering of quantum effects into next-generation technologies.
As our technical ability to explore bizarre quantum properties increases, so too does our ability to convert this knowledge into practical applications. Over the past hundred years we have barely scratched the surface of what quantum technologies can achieve. New developments in this field have the potential to bring to life new commercial applications of this exciting technology.
Advances in quantum science and improvements in our engineering capability have now reached a stage whereby commercialisation of new quantum technologies is not only possible, but an opportunity that we should not ignore.
The UK has the opportunity to build a £1 billion industry in this sector over the coming decades, through applications of quantum technology across several lucrative markets. Improvements in quantum navigation could contribute to a global market for GPS systems of £17.5 billion; and quantum technology sensors could enable the mapping of pipework and cabling under road surfaces, reducing the business costs associated with road works in London alone from the near £1 billion where it currently stands.
The UK is ideally placed to emerge as a global leader in a new quantum revolution. The nation is home to world-class researchers and facilities that have enabled the UK to achieve a deep understanding of fundamental quantum science. These credentials allow us to compete with other research leaders such as the US and China.
New quantum systems will require the development of much smaller and more robust components such as specialist lasers, high vacuum equipment, electronic control systems and photon detectors. These are all areas where the UK has significant industrial capability, and with the support of the UK Quantum Technologies programme we believe that we can put the UK in a prime position to capitalise on the quantum opportunity at an early stage.