India could ride the wave of emerging quantum technologies to meet some of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by its 2030 deadline. However, scientists and entrepreneurs say this will need standardization and self-sufficiency in quantum technologies.
The goals were set in 2015 regarding climate action, natural resources, sanitation, water, health, and food security. Though India is not on target on more than half the goals, quantum technologies have the ability to deal with multiple solutions simultaneously, says Mayank Shrivastava, at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Some of the SDGs overlap in their scope, and therefore also in their solutions. For instance, energy security (SDG 7) could also provide solutions for climate action (SDG 13 ). Quantum-driven solutions, such as novel materials for advanced electronics, expanding renewable energy, and securing digital environments, could address such interlinked objectives simultaneously.
India’s National Quantum Mission and technological partnerships are spotlighting these quantum solutions. But there’s a long way to go. India is “not quite there yet” when it comes to engineering stable and scalable quantum computers, a task made difficult due to noise, high rates of error, and the loss of quantum coherence, says Shrivastava, also co-founder of the start-up AGNIT Semiconductors.
Getting usable results from a quantum computer can be tricky as even the slightest technical interference (noise) can scramble it. "So our use of computers will be more problem-specific and can be based on whether a quantum or classical computer is more useful in a certain case," says physicist, Tanusri Saha-Dasgupta, at S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata.
Shrivastava also notes that quantum technologies need to be integrated with classical systems, and this transition requires robust hybrid architectures, a transition plan which is missing in India now.
The uptake of quantum science and technology-based applications in India also reflects the country’s thrust only for specific areas. For instance, India's push for wind energy hasn't reached a scale where it can fully leverage available quantum computing technologies.
Jitesh Lalwani, CEO and founder of Artificial Brain, a company using a form of computing called quantum annealing to place wind turbines precisely, says his company only has international clients in large-scale wind energy projects such as in Europe. “However, there's a growing interest and potential in India for future quantum applications,” says Lalwani.
Another important application of quantum computing will be for a growing number of ‘prosumers’ – people who generate energy and put surplus power back into the grid – for energy companies to navigate complexities that may arise due to this trend.
Arindam Ghosh, at IISc's Quantum Materials and Devices Group, says India has a chance to lead the technology development in quantum because the field's fundamental research is moving in step with technology development.
"Computing is being carried out on multiple platforms – superconductors, trapped ion or photons. We will wait and see which platform wins eventually," says Ghosh. But the country must plug all gaps from R&D to manufacturing for technology leadership in quantum, he says.
Ghosh calls for global standardization to ensure that quantum guidelines, protocols and safety specifications are uniform. “Our international partnerships should be closely linked to our domestic progress. We need to rely on our resources because other countries won't sell strategically important technology to us,” he adds.
Saha-Dasgupta urges a framework to enable people to collaborate better within the country's research and innovation ecosystem to maximize the quantum advantage. "The nature of research in India is individualistic. This is not the time for individual excellence, but rather teamwork," she adds.