Alphabet spins off its Sandbox AQ quantum computing unit

Alphabet Inc.’s Sandbox AQ quantum computing unit today spun off into an independent company and announced that it has raised funding from a group of prominent investors.

Sandbox AQ, incorporated as SB Technology Inc., did not disclose the size of the funding round. But Reuters reported that investment was in the “nine figures.”

Sandbox AQ’s backers include former Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, billionaire entrepreneur Thomas Tull and Salesforce.com Inc. founder Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures investment fund. More than half a dozen other individual and institutional investors participated as well.

Sandbox AQ is launching with an initial team of 55 engineers, scientists and technologists. The startup is led by CEO Jack Hidary, who previously led quantum computing research at Alphabet’s X lab. The startup plans to hire more staffers using its newly raised funding round, including artificial intelligence experts who will explore ways of using quantum computing to enhance neural networks.

“The convergence of quantum and AI technologies is already transforming entire industries, accelerating scientific discovery and reimagining what we thought was possible,” said Sandbox AQ investor CEO Eric Schmidt. “By developing commercially viable, quantum technologies using a combination of today’s high-performance computing power and emerging quantum platforms, Sandbox AQ is uniquely positioned to lead this transformation at scale for global impact.”

Sandbox AQ has shared only a few details about its technology roadmap so far. The startup said today that it’s working on quantum computing hardware, as well as applications and services. Sandbox AQ describes itself as an “enterprise SaaS” company, which suggests that startups intend to make their products accessible through the cloud as some other quantum computing startups have done.

According to Reuters, Sandbox AQ’s initial focus is selling software for post-quantum cryptography. That’s the term for a new approach to data encryption designed to withstand cyberattacks carried out by a quantum computer.

Hackers can read encrypted data if they obtain the cryptographic key that was used to encrypt it. In theory, one way that hackers could obtain a cryptographic key is by having a computer guess it. In practice, however, obtaining a key this way requires making so many guesses that the task would be impossible even using a supercomputer.

Future large-scale quantum computers would theoretically have sufficient processing capacity to decrypt encrypted data. As a result, researchers are developing new encryption technologies capable of withstanding hacking attempts by quantum computers. Those new technologies are part of an emerging field known as post-quantum cryptography, which is the area that Sandbox AQ is prioritizing as part of its initial go-to-market strategy.

The startup said it’s building “post-quantum cryptography modules” to help enterprises improve their cybersecurity. Moreover, Sandbox AQ is reportedly nearing deals to sell quantum simulation software that could be used for research in areas such as healthcare and materials science.

Sandbox AQ is targeting potential customers in a large number of sectors. The startup said it plans to work with organizations in areas such as telecommunications, financial services, healthcare, government, cybersecurity and others. Sandbox AQ already has several customers, including New York’s Mount Sinai Health System, SoftBank Group Corp.’s telecommunications business and Vodafone Business.

“I’m investing in Jack [Hidary, CEO of Sandbox AQ] and Sandbox AQ because of the scalability of its enterprise software, ”said Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. “Jack is emulating the way Salesforce.com harnessed the cloud computing era and applying it to the quantum technology era.”

Former Sandbox AQ parent Alphabet reportedly won’t have a stake in the company. The startup intends to support its research efforts by using services from multiple cloud providers including Google Cloud.

Sandbox AQ is the latest in a series of startups to have spun out of Alphabet’s X research lab over recent years. Previously, the Google LLC parent I say off a robotics software venture called Intrinsic last June. Intrinsic is developing AI software that makes it easier to deploy and operate industrial robots.

Photo: Google

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