Two years after it was initially announced, the Centre is now gearing up to launch the long-awaited Rs 8,000 crore Quantum Mission to expand its capabilities in the fast-growing world of quantum computers, said Professor Ajay Kumar Sood, principal scientific adviser to the government.
“Whether it is telecommunications, electronics, space, or defence, every department needs secure communications which quantum technology can provide. It is an extraordinary science. We had discussed this two years ago. It has now been worked upon by multiple ministries and hopefully will be launched very soon,” the government’s top scientist told News18 in an exclusive interview.
With a budget outlay of Rs 8,000 crore for a period of five years, the National Mission on Quantum Technologies & Applications (NM-QTA) will be led by the department of science and technology. The mission will look at building expertise in the quantum frontiers which will be essential for national security, and the development of quantum computers, quantum chemistry, quantum communication, new materials, quantum sensors, as well as quantum cryptography.
“At the country level, we are not yet ready with next-generation skilled human resources that we need for quantum. It requires very high-end preparedness, and that’s what the main goal of the mission will be. This is the golden period because this technology will still take many years to mature. But just like India took a quick lead when the IT revolution happened in the 1990s, we must begin preparing for quantum now. If we have to secure our communications and banking transactions, then we will need algorithms, and it will not happen overnight,” said Sood emphatically, adding that the mission will not just look at supporting basic research and development, but look at making a decisive contribution which can be translated into results.
As the quantum computing race heats up globally, the eminent physicist said the mission will address what India can immediately do to create those capabilities for the future. “It is extraordinary. It is the science of the young,” he remarked. The issue was also discussed in the latest PM’s Science Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (STIC) meeting.
With a computing power surpassing that of the mightiest computers currently available, quantum computing is projected to be a game changer for the world, especially in terms of national security, and providing an “unhackable” channel of communication. According to a recent McKinsey report, funding for start-ups focused on quantum technologies more than doubled in 2021 from 2020, and quantum computing now has the potential to capture nearly $700 billion in value as early as 2035, with that market estimated to exceed $90 billion annually by 2040.
Action group for start-ups
The top scientist also highlighted the government’s plans to give a further push to the start-up ecosystem in the country.
While the work on AGNIi (Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations) mission to commercialise innovative solutions is already in progress in collaboration with Invest India, deliberations are also underway to provide support to more budding start-ups.
“We would like to focus on deep-technology start-ups. In the long run, this is the kind of technology that the country would be known for. We are currently in the process of identifying the gaps in the ecosystem as well as on the policy side, including adequate infrastructure support. A policy paper on this will be brought out soon with other stakeholders. We have also formed an Action Group to list out our focus areas for long-lasting impact,” he added.
Another key area would be to encourage more start-ups to work on government-inspired initiatives including clean water, clean energy, recycling, and electric vehicles, and expand their business potential. “This is the new direction that the AGNIi mission has taken now,” he added. “We also want to encourage start-ups to explore alternatives to lithium-ion, which cannot be the only solution to battery storage. There is a limited supply of lithium and cobalt. We need to develop advanced electro-chemistries. All these efforts together will have to be supported, but for that, we have to think out of the box.”
NRF to be ready in 6 months
With inadequate research grants, and insufficient resources still a pain point for several universities and research centres across states, Professor Sood said the government has ironed out the details and will be ready to roll out the National Research Foundation (NRF) scheme within the next six months.
“It is in a very advanced stage. Our office has been in constant dialogue with concerned ministries to ensure that all bottlenecks are removed, and it is ready for launch. Several rounds of consultations have already happened, and there is progress. It could get launched in another six months, or maybe earlier,” he added.
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