The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Thales have inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to mark the start of a two-year partnership to jointly develop and test quantum technologies for commercial applications.
Under the MoU, Singapore’s Quantum Engineering Programme (QEP) and Thales aim to advance quantum technologies and prepare industry players for their arrival. The partnership will see industry and academic experts from Thales and QEP develop capabilities to test and evaluate interdisciplinary quantum security technologies. They will also explore potential research collaboration opportunities in the fields of new materials and design for quantum sensing. In addition, they will organise joint activities such as seminars and conferences to share their expertise and showcase their research outcomes.
QEP is an initiative launched in 2018 by the National Research Foundation, Singapore (NRF) and hosted at NUS. The projects under the collaboration span technologies for security and sensing, and involve QEP researchers across Singapore’s institutes of higher learning and research centres.
Professor Chen Tsuhan, NUS Deputy President (Research & Technology), said, “Singapore’s drive in quantum technologies is creating exciting opportunities for the nation’s digital economy. Building on this momentum, QEP’s partnership with Thales, a forerunner in the quantum revolution, will accelerate innovation and development of quantum solutions that are commercially attractive locally and globally. The success of this collaboration will also bolster Singapore’s attractiveness as a testbed and springboard for deploying new quantum technologies.”
With its track record in developing security and cybersecurity equipments, Thales will make available its SafeNet Luna Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) and high-speed network encryptors that support interfaces to quantum devices for research use. The algorithms and quantum random number generation technology in these equipment provide the crypto-agility to easily implement quantum-safe crypto and combat the threats of quantum computing. This equipment would be deployed for proof-of-concept trials and test beds in Singapore. In May 2021, Thales launched a network encryption solution capable of protecting enterprise data from future quantum cyber-attacks. It supplements standard encryption with a scheme resistant to quantum computing that is under consideration for international standards.
“Quantum technologies open almost infinite possibilities for the future and our researchers see real potential in three types of quantum applications, namely in sensors, communications and post-quantum cryptology. Thales has a rich heritage in research and technology in Singapore and being part of the QEP is a strong testament to our collaborative approach towards using quantum technologies to solve real world, end-user challenges. While this initial partnership involves our network encryption technology to provide crypto-agility and cybersecurity, we continue to work with the R&T ecosystem in Singapore to explore new topics, including using novel materials for quantum sensing or in secured communications in quantum technologies,” said Mr Kevin Chow, Country Director and Chief Executive, Thales in Singapore.
The joint team of scientists and engineers will also develop devices that tap on quantum physics for higher performance. This is an area of focus under Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan (RIE2025).
Mr Ling Keok Tong, Director (Smart Nation and Digital Economy) at NRF, said, “Quantum communications and security, as well as quantum devices and instrumentation are two significant focus areas under the QEP. This MOU will enable like-minded organisations like Thales to collaborate with our public sector research performers to translate their capabilities into impactful next-generation quantum technologies for application in the industry.”
Thales, which has 33,000 engineers across the world, also aims to be a key player in what is often called the second quantum revolution, which exploits subtle properties of quantum physics and requires mastery of the associated technologies.
Quantum communication, for example, relies on quantum physics to make secure encryption keys that can protect confidential messages sent over public networks, while quantum sensors can use quantum physics to make precise measurements. In the future, quantum sensors may help vehicles navigate without global-positioning systems, power new medical imaging technologies and contribute to many other fields.
A third family of quantum technologies, quantum computing, harnesses quantum physics to process information in new ways. It brings the promise of surpassing supercomputers for some data problems but also carries the threat of being able to break some of today’s standard encryption.
France-Singapore collaboration in quantum research
Thales has its global headquarters in France, which has a strong partnership with Singapore in science and innovation. A meeting of the France-Singapore Joint Science and Innovation Committee (COSIMIX) in June 2021 included exchanges on potential cooperation in quantum technologies.
There is intense global interest in quantum technologies for both countries. In France, a Quantum Plan announced by French President Emmanuel Macron in January 2021 dedicates 1.8 billion euros (S$2.8 billion) towards developing quantum technologies in the country. In Singapore, the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) at NUS has been building up a pool of quantum expertise since its establishment in 2007. QEP is investing S$121.6 million to advance Singapore’s quantum ecosystem, supporting research that applies quantum technologies for solving user-defined problems and activities that engage industry. Quantum communication and security, as well as quantum sensing are two pillars of the programme.
Associate Professor Alexander Ling, Director of the QEP, said, “The QEP looks for strong technology partners from industry to help meet its goal of deploying Singapore’s quantum know-how to benefit our economy and society. We are delighted that Thales has joined us in studying how quantum techniques can improve communications and sensing.” Assoc Prof Ling is also from the NUS Department of Physics and is a Principal Investigator at CQT.