Quantum computers, so far only a reality in the laboratory, are set to make the leap into the real world. Google and Microsoft are among the many companies and organizations leading the charge to make Quantum computing a reality sooner rather than later, and it has involved a shift from pure research to tackling the engineering challenges of the brand new technology.

Quantum computers - the next stage

Quantum computing is so-called because it uses the quantum mechanics of particles to transmit and manipulate data, in contrast with current binary technology which uses electronics circuitry at its base. Various phenomena of quantum mechanics, such as entanglement, allow quantum computing to accomplish multiple operations simultaneously, as opposed to queuing one operation at a time according to the current model.

It represents another huge leap forward in computer technology.

Various models of quantum computing are under exploration. Google is focusing its efforts on using superconductivity, while Microsoft is developing something called "topological quantum computing" that uses quasiparticles, objects produced by internal interactions. No one as yet has proven the existence of quasiparticles, but Microsoft hopes to demonstrate its technology this year.

Princeton's quantum computing breakthrough

There are many other teams internationally who are working to bring quantum computing and all its potential to everyday life.

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Princeton University researchers have developed a method that could make quantum computers a viable reality. Their silicon-based model allows electrons to pass information to a photon one to one. The photon then acts like a messenger and transmits the information along a chain of electrons in the equivalent of current computer circuitry. In quantum computer technology, an electron is the equivalent of a bit.

The successfully tested device is the result of five years of development. The team of physicists first trap a photon and an electron in the device, then adjust the energy of the electron so that it can "talk" to the photon. Silicon is cheap and is already used widely in modern electronics, giving the device -- and quantum computers -- real potential for mass market use.