Photo/IllutrationCabinet ministers from various nations observe the K supercomputer at the Riken research institute in Kobe. (Pool)

A prototype quantum computer being developed in Japan will be made freely available from Nov. 27 to allow more engineers the chance to improve it.

The National Institute of Informatics and other research agencies hope to commercialize a domestic quantum computer by the end of fiscal 2019 in the face of intensifying global competition.

In theory, a quantum computer could be much faster than the fastest supercomputers now operating.

The traditional computer uses bits in making calculations in sequential order. However, applying principles from quantum particles, the quantum computer can, in theory, make all those calculations simultaneously.

Quantum computers now being developed are still much slower than supercomputers, but, in theory, the day could come when a quantum computer can complete in an instant a calculation that would take an ordinary computer a thousand years.

If such a quantum computer was developed, it would open the possibility for further development of artificial intelligence or new drugs. The technology could also be applied to help resolve difficult problems such as alleviating traffic jams.

Basic research on quantum computers began in the 1980s, and Japanese achievements in the field have been recognized by scientists around the world.

However, U.S. companies such as IBM and Google have taken the lead in moving toward commercialization of the technology.

A Canadian company known as D-Wave Systems Inc. partially succeeded in commercializing a quantum computer in 2011 and the technology has been utilized by NASA and Denso Corp., a Japanese auto parts manufacturer.

The Riken research institute and the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. are also among the agencies involved in the Japanese quantum computer development project.

The group has used a research support program organized by the Cabinet Office to push forward development of a technology that involves the integration of optic fibers with laser beams.

The technology has been found to have about 37 times the calculating speed of a small supercomputer used by Riken. In some specific calculations, the prototype was found to have a higher accuracy rate than the D-Wave quantum computer.

Another major advantage of the prototype is the low volume of electricity required to cool the computer. Supercomputers require large volumes of electricity for cooling. The Japanese K supercomputer needs more than 10,000 kilowatts of electricity for cooling, but the prototype only requires about 1 kilowatt, which is the electricity used by a large microwave oven.

The plan to open the prototype to outside experts is designed to deal with the lack of engineers and other specialists in the development process.

The research group hopes to have other companies and research agencies use the prototype and gather the accumulated results to further improve the technology as well as to foster the personnel needed to eventually use it.

"We will seek to further improve the prototype so that the quantum computer can eventually tackle the various problems that are out there in society," said Yoshihisa Yamamoto, the program manager for the research group.