HAL Emerges from a tie-up between NPL and Riverlane. Building a Quantum Operating system

One of the accelerators in the Personal Computing space has been the development of the O/S or the Operating System which has enabled developers and users to interact with machines without needing to understand the intricacies of the hardware. In the latest news from NPL (National Physical Laboratory) and Riverlane (based in Cambridge UK), a consortium has developed an open-source hardware abstraction layer (HAL), named HAL that makes software portable across different quantum computing hardware platforms. Science fiction fans will of course be reminded of the machine intelligence named HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“We encourage quantum computer users to try out the HAL. Anyone can implement the HAL and try out their algorithms on qubit emulators. We welcome input to improve the specification further.”

The HAL is to be portable across the four leading qubit technologies: superconducting qubits, trapped-ion qubits, photonic systems and silicon-based qubits. Meaning, it will allow high-level quantum computer users, such as application developers, platform and system software engineers as well as cross-platform software architects, to program and development software for quantum computers without needing to interface directly with the hardware layer.

“There are many different evolving systems in the quantum ecosystem and we need an interface that is independent of the hardware to make programs portable. We are therefore delighted to have reached this important milestone. Our HAL effectively allows programmers to ‘write once, run anywhere’, ensuring the widest possible use of our consortium’s technologies and opening up the ecosystem to new players, generating additional commercial opportunities.”

Dr Leonie Mueck, Chief Product Officer of Riverlane, said: 

HAL emerged from a collaboration between a large number of players in the UK quantum ecosystem, which were brought together by a £7.6M project funded by the UK government’s Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund. The consortium also includes the UK’s quantum hardware companies, SeeQC, Hitachi Europe, Universal Quantum, Duality Quantum Photonics, Oxford Ionics, and Oxford Quantum Circuits and ARM.

The new, multi-level HAL allows users to take advantage of advanced hardware capabilities for improved performance without having to focus on hardware specifics. A developer can focus on the algorithm, rather than the hardware-specific implementation, therefore the algorithm is portable across different quantum technologies. Future aims for HAL will also provide support for compiler optimisations, measurement-based control, and error correction.

“This is the first time that such a diverse group of hardware and software companies have come together to build an open HAL specification and release it publicly. Our aim is to reduce the barrier for non-experts to access quantum technology and to accelerate the pathway to quantum advantage.”

Dr Ivan Rungger, Senior Research Scientist of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL)

Riverlane, based in Cambridge UK, builds algorithms and software to unleash the predictive power of quantum computing. With a multidisciplinary team of world-leading researchers, our mission is to make quantum computers useful sooner. Backed by VC funds and the University of Cambridge, Riverlane collaborates with quantum hardware providers, as well as chemical, pharmaceutical and materials companies.

This first specification of the HAL is version: 0 and is now freely accessible on Github by following the link. Feedback is sought from the quantum community, with the eventual aim of including the concepts into an international standard on which the community can build, perhaps the Linux or the Windows of the Quantum Computing world.

Based in southwest London, NPL (National Metrology Institute) employs over 600 scientists. Focused on measurement, NPL works in a variety of sectors from new antibiotics to tackle resistance and more effective cancer treatments, to secure quantum communications and superfast 5G, technological advances must be built on a foundation of reliable measurement to succeed.