On February 2021, Xanadu hosted QHack 2021. The event ran from February 17 to 26th, and it was free to enter. Teams could register and then listen to a variety of lectures, talks, and tutorials for the first three days while the open hackathon was opened on the 22nd. Teams competed for valuable prizes.
Participants watched the streamed lectures and learned from the experts invited to speak. Some of these experts are from Xanadu, while others work for Google, IBM Quantum, and Zapata Computing. Yet others are academia from the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and many more. These can be found on QHack’s Twitch channel. The experts were all enthusiastic to share what they knew and talk about quantum. Some stats from the event:
- Over 2,650 people attended
- Over 800 teams registered
- Participants from 85 countries
- Number of Live Hours watched: 4,783
- Total views: 13,800
This year, QHack 2021 focused on quantum machine learning (QML). The hackathon has two parts, the QML Challenge Board and the QHack Open Hackathon. The former had teams choose from many QML questions, grouped into difficulty levels. They could pick and choose as they desired. The Open Hackathon allowed teams to create and design their own projects or use some pre-made seed ideas. Teams were to use PennyLane and Amazon Braket to work on their projects. The Open Hackathon started on the 22nd.
The top 80 teams in the first challenge received credits to help them work on Amazon Web Services, including Amazon Braket. The Open Hackathon could be showcased on hardware from different companies, including IonQ, Rigetti, and D-Wave. Alternatively, the teams could work with cloud-based simulators.
For the top 50 teams, their reward is an API key for an alpha version of Sandbox@Alphabet’s Floq API. These contestants were given the chance to test their QML projects on Floq’s TPU-based quantum simulator. The simulator is incredibly powerful, and it could give them an edge above the lower-performing teams. Access to the simulator lasted throughout the Open Hackathon, and the team that utilised Floq the best received a $2,500 cash prize. One can only guess how this pushed the teams to work at their best to win a key.
There was also a $4,000 award in AWS credits available for teams that opened an issue on the official QHack GitHub repository by the 24th. These credits were advantageous for utilising Amazon Web Services’ functions to give their project an extra boost.
The grand prize of the event was a summer internship at CERN. While teams could be larger than three members, only three intern positions were available. This grand prize was exciting, as any scientist would love to work at CERN, even if it was only for a summer.
The performance of the teams was judged by three criteria, scientific/technical quality demonstrated, quality of the presentation, and use of the quantum stack. Both the QML Challenge scoreboard rankings and Open Hackathon project performance affected the placings.
Before QHack 2021 started, there were no example questions to study, nor was there clear information as to what will happen. However, there was mention that contestants would be working with PennyLane and Amazon Braket. This allowed for an element of surprise and made the streamed Twitch lectures useful.
QHack 2021 was sponsored by Xanadu, AWS, Quantum Technology Initiative, Sandbox@Alphabet, IBM Quantum, Google, and Rigetti.