Pasqal raises $100M to build a neutral atom-based quantum computer

Pasqal, a Paris-based quantum computing startup, today announced that it has raised a $100 million Series B funding round let by Singapore’s Temasek. In addition to Temasek, existing investors Quantonation, the Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next, as well as new investors European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance (through its Large Venture Fund) also participated in this round.

What makes Pasqal, which was founded in early 2019, stand out in an increasingly crowded field of quantum computing startups is that the company is betting on neutral atoms quantum computing. This is a relatively new and potentially game-changing approach to building quantum processors. Instead of trapped ions (like IonQ) or superconducting quantum computers (like IBM), neutral atom quantum processors use lasers to hold atoms in place with what is essentially an optical tweezer.

As you can imagine, building the technology to hold a single atom — and only a single atom — in this trap created its own challenges, but that’s mostly a solved problem now. The advantage here is that once you can do this with hundreds of atoms at the same time, you can create both a very dense matrix of qubits and one that, using holographic methods, you can reshuffle in 3D space as needed for a given algorithm. And all of this happens at room temperature. That almost makes these machines more akin to Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) than more traditional quantum processors. You can find a Pasqal’s paper about this process with more details here and it’s also worth noting that Alain Aspect, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum entanglement in 2022, is one of Pasqal’s co-founders.

Image Credits: Pasqal

As Pasqal co-founder and CEO Georges-Olivier Reymond told me, the company has already demonstrated that it can control more than 300 atoms at a time. “It’s very hard to have only one atom in a laser beam and to monitor it and to control it,” he explained. “But once you achieve that, you can almost easily scale that and you can create arrays in any shape you want.” He noted that the qubits are similar to ion-based qubits in terms of their coherence time and fidelity, yet this flexibility and ability to pack these atoms in a very dense array, with only a couple of microns between the qubits, could give this technology an advantage.

Reymond noted that with some of these basic capabilities now in place, the team is working on building the quantum control system so it can start implementing quantum algorithms. And while there are startups that focus on building quantum control hardware, none of them are optimized for neutral atoms, he noted, so the company decided to build its own system.

Clearly, the Pasqal team is quite optimistic about its system and Reymond believes that the team will be able to show its potential customers “quantum business advantage” in 2024. He believes that this will take a system with 200 to 300 qubits.

At this point, most researchers believe that we won’t see the industry trend toward a single technology for solving every algorithm. Instead, different quantum technologies will find their sweet spots for solving different problems. For Pasqal, the team believes that its system will work especially well for graph-centric problems. “There are a lot of computational challenges that you can reframe in the shape of a graph,” he explained. “What we can do with atoms, is we can represent the shape of this graph and embed the complexity of the algorithm in this geometry. In the end, instead of using thousands of quantum gates, just by implementing a couple of them, you can run your algorithm and then you are resilient to errors.”

The company is currently working with the likes of Crédit Agricole CIB, BASF, BMW, Siemens, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson and Thales to help them understand where its technology can solve their business needs.

“We are very proud of this new milestone in PASQAL’s development that will make the company a world leader,” said Christophe Jurczak, managing partner at Quantonation. “Quantonation has supported the company since its spin-off from Institut d’Optique. It is the first scale-up within Quantonation’s portfolio, and it truly illustrates the excellence of French research and the competitiveness of the French quantum ecosystem.”

Pasqal raises $100M to build a neutral atom-based quantum computer by Frederic Lardinois originally published on TechCrunch

Lightyear stops production on €250,000 solar-powered EV

Solar-powered electric vehicle maker Lightyear said it’s halting production on its flagship Lightyear 0, its premium EV with a sticker price of €250,000. Despite only starting production on the vehicle three months ago, Lightyear is restructuring to focus on building a more affordable model, the Lightyear 2 for around €40,000, reports Electrek.

The news comes as many electric vehicle makers push back production and delivery dates due to a range of macroeconomic factors like semiconductor shortages, battery supply issues and rising costs of materials due to inflation. At the same time, with recession fears hanging over consumers like a dark cloud and EV startups struggling to get vehicles off the assembly line, throwing money into an extremely expensive model just doesn’t make good business sense.

The Lightyear 0 was always intended as a technology demonstrator to be produced in limited quantities. In a press release, Lightyear said it has had to overcome “many challenges” in order to make its vehicles a reality. The company didn’t specify what challenges, but said in order to safeguard its vision, the Lightyear 0 needed to die so the Lightyear 2 could thrive.

“We are now redirecting all our energy towards building Lightyear 2 in order to make it available to clients on schedule,” said Lightyear’s CEO and co-founder Lex Hoefsloot in a statement.

Lightyear opened the waitlist for Lightyear 2, a five-seater hatchback with a promised range of 500 miles per charge, earlier this month at CES. The company hasn’t shared many details on the car, but already the Lightyear 2 has over 40,000 reservations from individual buyers and about 20,000 pre-orders from fleet owners like international leasing and car-sharing companies Leaseplan, MyWheels, Arval and Athlon, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The Lightyear 2 is scheduled to start production in mass-market volumes at the end of 2025. It’s not clear if the company intends to push up that production date now that it won’t be building the Lightyear 0, for which it has already pre-sold 150 units. Earlier this month, a Lightyear spokesperson told TechCrunch the first Lightyear 0 has been produced and shown to the company’s first customer. The company said it had been building one car per week since November and expected to ramp up weekly production later this year.

Lightyear did not respond in time to TechCrunch to comment on production date of the 2s or whether it will make good on its 0 sales.

However, Lightyear did say in a press release that it submitted a request to “the court to open suspension of payment proceedings in relation to Atlas Technologies B.V., our operating company responsible for the production of the Lightyear 0.” The company didn’t stipulate to which court it submitted a suspension request, but according to the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, companies can request to have their debts frozen for 18 months, giving them time to reorganize.

Lightyear will likely try to raise more money to stay afloat. The company raised $81 million in September as it prepared to start production on Lightyear 0, but Hoefsloot noted that the company hopes to “conclude some key investments in the coming weeks in order to scale up” the car for a wider audience.

Lightyear stops production on €250,000 solar-powered EV by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Musk said he could have funded a Tesla buyout with SpaceX shares

Elon Musk testified Monday that he was not only certain he’d have the backing from Saudi financiers to take Tesla private in 2018, but also that he could have sold enough shares of his rocket company SpaceX to fund a buyout.

Musk defended himself as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the CEO for allegedly defrauding investors by tweeting on August 7, 2018 that he had secured funding to take Tesla private at $420 per share and that “investor support is confirmed.” Tesla’s stock price surged after Musk’s tweets and later dropped when it became clear the buyout wouldn’t happen. Investors say they lost millions as a result of Musk’s tweets.

While Musk does stand to lose billions of dollars in damages if he loses the case, what’s really at stake for the world’s richest man is his reputation for being truthful and for looking after his investors.

In a San Francisco federal court, Musk doubled down on his belief that he had a verbal confirmation from the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) to take Tesla private. Musk testified that the fund “backpedaled” on its commitment. He also acknowledged that no takeover price had been discussed with representatives of the PIF.

Even without the PIF money, he “felt funding was secured” with SpaceX stock alone. Musk nodded toward his sales of Tesla stock to buy Twitter, and said he would have considered doing the same thing to make the deal to take Tesla private go through.

The plaintiff’s lawyers countered that since Musk’s deposition from last year didn’t include any reference to selling SpaceX stock, today’s inclusion of that point was constructed in hindsight.

Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, also pointed to Musk’s ability to raise “more money than anyone in history,” according to Musk, which would have also backed the executive’s claims that funding was secured.

A jury of nine will decide whether the CEO artificially inflated the company’s share price with his tweets about the buyout, and if so, by how much. U.S. Judge Edward Chen ruled last year that Musk’s post was untruthful and reckless, which might affect the jury’s opinion.

Musk says he tries to do what’s best for investors

Musk and his attorney also argued that he wasn’t trying to defraud investors, but actually wanted to bring some of them along. Tesla’s hardcore base of retail investors — like the plaintiffs in this case — is important to the company. But the SEC doesn’t allow retail investors to invest in private companies.

“So the concerns would be if Musk took this company private, could the person who owns two shares of Tesla and has a low-paying job remain an investor? Because the company’s got a very loyal retail investor fan base of people who buy Tesla’s products and believe in Musk,” Josh White, an assistant professor of finance at Vanderbilt University and former financial economist for the SEC, told TechCrunch.

During the trial on Monday, Musk provided details about certain special purpose vehicles that are available to SpaceX investors — SpaceX being a private company — that Musk supposedly wanted to replicate with his take-private deal with Tesla.

“Musk was trying to say they could invest in a sort of special purpose vehicle which would perhaps allow retail investors to come together in something that looks like a fund, then that fund actually invests in a private Tesla,” said White.

White noted that these types of vehicles aren’t always good for investors because it leaves them with less liquidity.

Regardless, the plaintiff’s lawyers demonstrated through exhibits from Goldman Sachs and other investors that there were limitations on keeping retail investors involved in a private Tesla.

While on the stand, Musk also framed his tweets about an incomplete deal as an attempt to include shareholders in his considerations to take the company private. He said he was concerned the Financial Times knew about the Saudi’s potential investment in Tesla and Tesla’s take-private deal, and would leak the info before Musk himself got the chance to tell shareholders.

“I was worried that shareholders would think that I was trying to exclude them,” Musk said. “And I want it to be clear that I was trying to support them”

“The $420 price was not a joke.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also investigated Musk’s tweets, which lead to a combined $40 million settlement from him and Tesla, and a requirement that a Tesla lawyer review Tesla-related tweets in advance, something Musk tried to appeal later.

The SEC alleged that Musk had rounded the buyout offer to $420 per share from $419 as a reference to weed culture, which the agency said Musk’s girlfriend would find funny.

Musk denied this, and said it was a coincidence that $420 is also a reference to Weed Day, which is on April 20.

“It was chosen because it was a 20% premium over the stock price,” said Musk. “The $420 price was not a joke.”

Musk also testified briefly last Friday, telling jurors he didn’t believe his tweets affected Tesla stock.

“Just because I tweet something does not mean people believe it or will act accordingly,” Musk said.

Musk said he could have funded a Tesla buyout with SpaceX shares by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Bluedot’s debit card for EV owners offers cheaper charging, cash back

Electric vehicles accounted for nearly 6% of all new cars sold in the U.S. in 2022, an increase from 3.1% the year before, and that number will continue to grow over the coming years. While it’s still a young industry, the ecosystem surrounding EVs — from EV charging and installation to insurance products and parking — is shaping up to be one that’s disconnected and somewhat complicated.

So say the founders of Bluedot, a banking and rewards platform for EV owners that aims to enhance the after-sales experience. Here’s how it works: Individual owners or fleet managers sign up for Bluedot’s debit card, which they’ll use for all auto-related purchases, but predominantly for EV charging. Bluedot is currently offering customers a flat fee of $0.30 per kilowatt hour of charging with participating EV charging stations, and 20% cash back on charges with nonparticipating charging networks. Customers find stations and pay directly for charges with partner charging companies on Bluedot’s app, saving them the need to download multiple apps.

Bluedot users also get 5% cash back on all automotive expenses, plus another 2% cash back for all other expenses. In addition, the company provides users with rewards in nearby shopping and dining locations. So while waiting for their car to charge, a customer can walk over to the local Starbucks for a coffee and get 10% cash back on that purchase, or do some shopping at Whole Foods and score another 15% cash back, for example.

The startup, which will join Y Combinator’s winter 2023 cohort and recently closed a $2 million pre-seed, is initially focusing on charging stations, in part because it’s an industry that’s about to blow up with federal and state funding. The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in August 2022, gives all states access to over $1.5 billion in funding to facilitate EV charging projects. That might end up looking like a big push to install infrastructure without much cohesion.

Bluedot’s app aggregates nearby EV charging stations and offers rewards for charging. Image Credits: Bluedot

Bluedot wouldn’t say which charging companies it works with to offer its flat fee, but the startup said customers could initiate charging through the Bluedot app at around 60% of all charging stations across the U.S. To grow its partner network, Bluedot is targeting smaller and newer charging companies that might not have the resources to create their own app and payments platform.

“New EV charging companies are seeking solutions like ours to increase visibility and accessibility for drivers, optimize payment processes, and improve utilization rate of charging stations,” Selinay Filiz Parlak, Bluedot’s co-founder and chief operating officer, told TechCrunch. “Bluedot is working on integrating financial technology to help these companies make their charging stations more viable and accessible to drivers.”

“Currently, utilization in most of the charging station networks ranges from 5% to 8%. Bluedot aims to raise this rate above 15%. We began with small charging station companies, but our goal is to bring all brands together with financial technology for users,” continued Parlak.

Bluedot’s main customers today are individual drivers who found the startup through partnerships with auto dealers and ride-share companies. Parlak says Bluedot’s next target is fleets to help them manage expenses and charging processes and get better deals.

“For example, one of our partners is a leasing company that rents cars out to a bunch of delivery drivers who are managed by a fleet manager,” said Parlak. “They want to offer a larger charging station ecosystem, which is easier to bill and then reimburse, which we offer. And they also want to get better deals around electrification.”

Bluedot is also manually pulling data for customers on their charging habits, how much they spend, how much power they use, their top charging locations, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions they’ve prevented by using an EV, and so on. In the future, the company wants to automate that task to make it smarter and more scalable.

During YC, Bluedot wants to focus on growth and product development.

“Our goal is to establish partnerships and make deals leading up to demo day,” Ferhat Babacan, Bluedot’s CEO and co-founder, told TechCrunch. “Specifically, we aim to secure partnerships in the areas of auto dealership, charging networks, and auto-related expenses. Additionally, we plan to initiate pilot tests for the Bluedot Fleet Card.”

Bluedot’s debit card for EV owners offers cheaper charging, cash back by Rebecca Bellan originally published on TechCrunch

Max Q: Things are tough out there

Hello and welcome back to Max Q! I hate writing intros, so let’s get to it, shall we?

In this issue:

A startup tackling the “unsexy” parts-ordering workflows
Space tech predictions from Seraphim Space
News from Varda, ClearSpace and more

Stell wants to modernize the “unsexy” workflows slowing down America’s industrial base

There is very little room for error in aerospace and defense (A&D) manufacturing. For companies that build products like missiles, rocket boosters and avionics, each part must not deviate more than a hairsbreadth from its technical specifications.

Despite the precise demands of the industry, however, parts ordering is generally done using systems that are only slightly better than carrier pigeon.

To solve this problem, Malory McLemore and Anne Wen founded Stell, a startup that’s building a platform to bring new workflows to parts ordering. The company is hoping that its platform can reduce errors and improve efficiency — two variables that will be key to shoring up America’s industrial base.

Stell founders Malory McLemore and Anne Wen. Image Credits: Stell

7 space tech predictions for 2023

From Seraphim Space CEO Mark Boggett, seven predictions on what the space industry has in store this year. First on the list: cell phone connectivity from space.

“Multiple players in the space industry have recently set their sights on direct-to-mobile connectivity from space,” Boggett writes. “While it’s still a very early market with limited existing capabilities, companies such as Apple, T-Mobile, Globalstar, SpaceX, AST SpaceMobile and Lynk Global are targeting this area. Multiple mobile network operators are already on board, even before some of the first operational spacecraft have been launched.”

Image Credits: Orlando Sentinel (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

More news from TC and beyond

ABL Space Systems provided an update on the investigation into the anomaly that caused the company’s RS1 rocket to crash back into the launch pad on its first test flight. (ABL)
China is planning more than 70 launches this year. (SpaceNews)
ClearSpace, a Swiss startup developing in-orbit servicing and debris-removal tech, closed a €26.7 million ($28.9 million) Series A round. (Venturelab)
The European Space Agency wants to enact a “zero-debris policy” for companies launching spacecraft into orbit. (WSJ)
Slingshot Aerospace has a new partnership with HawkEye 360 for the latter company to provide radio frequency data for Slingshot’s space-based monitoring platform. (HawkEye)
Space Capital’s most recent quarterly report found that private investment in space dropped 58% in 2022 compared to the previous year. (TechCrunch)
SpaceX’s agreement with Carnival was expanded, with the cruise company moving to introduce Starlink across its cruise brands. (Carnival)
Varda Space Industries provided a look at its first spacecraft that’s being built in partnership with Rocket Lab. It will launch aboard SpaceX’s Transporter-8. (Varda)

Max Q is brought to you by me, Aria Alamalhodaei. If you enjoy reading Max Q, consider forwarding it to a friend. 

Max Q: Things are tough out there by Aria Alamalhodaei originally published on TechCrunch

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