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Dr. Kay-Uwe Giering
Chief Scientist Department Design Methodologies
Fraunhofer IIS, Division Engineering of Adaptive Systems EAS
Münchner Straße 16
01187 Dresden, Germany
Phone +49 351 45691-202
Due to rapid advances in quantum computing, many of the cryptographic encryption methods used today – for example, in online banking – will become vulnerable to attacks. This means that research into new methods for the secure transmission
of data and information is crucial. Encryption techniques that can replace or usefully supplement today’s methods already exist. They are based on a system whereby the sender and the receiver have a secret key known only to them. The advantage of quantum communication systems is that the exchange of keys is performed using quanta of light, and certain physical laws make it impossible to intercept quantum keys undetected. The quantum-encrypted data can then be securely transmitted via a conventional connection.
The Application Center for the Design of Scalable Electronic Systems for Quantum Communication – to give its full title – at the Engineering of Adaptive Systems (EAS) Division is working to cultivate this technological principle for practical application. Its goal is to nurture the innovation and application potential of the technology for the high-tech industries that are such a strong presence in the Saxon economy, such as micro- and nano-electronics. Since the summer of 2022, the center has been providing companies and researchers with flexible experiment and test environments for the development of electronics for quantum communication systems. One of the focuses of its work, for example, has been on microelectronic circuits based on chiplets. This approach not only makes it possible to produce electronics cost-effectively even in small batches, but also offers a way to implement very high-performance functional units using the optimum technology for each of the heterogeneous systems required.
“Quantum communication – that is, the exchange of data via qubits – will change our world forever. The prospect of hack-proof data transfer offers just a glimpse of the full potential of this technology. However, it will take many more technological innovations for this technology to become widespread in industry and administration and, ultimately, among the general public. This is where the new application center comes in. Working within a partner network, it will develop and test precisely these applications in an effort to shape the key development stages of quantum techno- logy,” says Saxony’s Minister of Science, Sebastian Gemkow.
An important milestone of the application center was achieved in 2022 with the successful creation of a prototype quantum communication system. “In a first stage, we did intensive testing of quantum-safe communication via fiber optics at our institute building on Münchner Straße,” reports Dr. Kay-Uwe Giering, head of the application center at Fraunhofer IIS/EAS. “As a result, we can now give other research institutes and companies access to a demonstrator as a practical testing environment for their own developments of electronic components and systems.” This experimentation environment is based on entangled photon pairs, which permit the allocation of a random key. The setups use individual photons and currently encode the key bit in the photon polarization or the photon phase. Furthermore, the test environment makes it possible to implement the design, validation and optimization of high-performance electronic circuits for quantum communication in modern semiconductor technologies. “The modern approach we’re pursuing here offers huge advantages for our partners,” Giering says. “As well as enabling miniaturized and cost-effective electronic modules, it also provides them with maximum performance capability and adaptability.”
It is planned to incrementally expand the distances for highly secure signal transmission – starting at the local and regional levels in Saxony and extending from there to Thuringia in 2024 and then further afield to Bavaria at a later point. After all, the center was specifically designed as research infrastructure for the establishment of quantum communication under the umbrella of an initiative between the three states. The states’ activities themselves complement the Germany-wide QuNET research initiative for the development of new key technologies for quantum communication, which is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The establishment of the application center has received around eight million euros in funding from the Saxon Ministry of Science, Culture and Tourism in the context of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This initiative is co-funded by taxation money allocated from the budget of the Saxon State Parliament.