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D-Wave’s 2000Q quantum computer is the basis for its new cloud service, open to developers today. (D-Wave Photo)

After years of hype about the potential of quantum computing, D-Wave is about to let mainstream developers finally take its quantum machines for a test drive.

The Vancouver company plans to unveil D-Wave Leap later on Thursday, a cloud service that will allow developers to sign up and run their own applications on one of D-Wave’s 2000Q quantum computers. Developers who agree to open-source quantum applications run on the service will be able to access it for free starting today, while commercial entities that want to experiment with a quantum computing will be able to pay $2,000 per hour per month, with a minimum four-month commitment.

“The key thing we’re focused on here is making quantum technology available to people who are new to quantum,” said Murray Thom, director of software and cloud services at D-Wave. That is a rather large number of people, especially in the commercial software development world, where quantum computing has about as much day-to-day relevance as self-driving cars do to people currently stuck in traffic.

So-called “classical” computers (which we currently know as, well, computers) represent a single bit of data as either a “0” or a “1,” and can solve complex problems by simply performing that operation very quickly, over and over again.

D-Wave’s 2000Q quantum computer has to be refrigerated to near absolute zero (-459.67 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to work. (D-Wave Photo)

Quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in many more states than either “0” or “1.” This theoretically means you can address even more complicated mathematical problems than classical computers could hope to solve, and it is being eyed by companies around the world as a potential breakthrough technology for crytopgraphy, traffic analysis, and factory automation, among other things.

While several companies, including D-Wave, IBM (which offers its own quantum cloud service), and startup Rigetti Computing have developed basic quantum computers, they are extremely expensive to build and maintain. The most likely path forward for this technology will be through cloud services, which will allow developers to see what effects quantum applications could have on their businesses without having to invest millions in a box.

As part of its cloud service, D-Wave plans to release a software development kit with quantum application templates and other tools that allow applications to be created with Python, one of the more popular programming languages of the moment. The company will also host lots of educational information and community discussion forums on Leap, Thom said, in hopes of encouraging those who need help getting started with quantum computing.

D-Wave’s approach to quantum is somewhat controversial in this world, according to researchers who believe it has yet to create a true quantum computer along the lines of others working in this field. Rigetti announced plans for a quantum cloud service earlier this year, although it hasn’t opened that service up to the general public as of yet.

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