For the first time, NASA has publicly shown off a $15-million quantum computer made by a B.C. company and the lab where it's housed.

NASA invited media to tour its Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at its Ames Research Center in California's Moffett Field earlier this month. The lab is equipped with a D-Wave Two, made by Burnaby-based D-Wave.

The device was purchased in 2013 via a partnership with Google and Universities Space Research Association. The collaboration is backed by an agreement signed in September to upgrade the device for up to the next seven years.

D-Wave is the first company in the world to sell a quantum computer, a completely new type of computer designed to exploit quantum mechanics, laws of physics that apply only to very small particles such as atoms. In theory, that should allow it to do certain types of computations far more quickly than conventional computers.

Quantum computers store data in units called qubits, analogous to the bits used in conventional computers. But while each conventional bit stores information as either 1 or 0, qubits make use of quantum mechanics to encode information as both 1 and 0 at the same time.

That property, known as superposition, means quantum computers with a given number of qubits can store exponentially more information compared to conventional computers with the same number of bits, and are better at certain types of operations and problems.

NASA says the computer will be useful for air traffic control and more accurate weather prediction.