Quantum computers should be able to solve highly complex tasks such as traffic optimization much faster than conventional super computers, or even make a solution possible in the first place. The Volkswagen Group sees great potential in this future IT technology for new applications within the company, but also for new business models. For some time now, the company has been testing possible uses of quantum computers in applications related to materials research. Now it apparently also has achieved a breakthrough in the use of this computer in traffic planning.
“Volkswagen is pushing ahead with application-oriented research on quantum computers, thereby securing important specialist knowledge,” says Florian Neukart, Principal Scientist in Volkswagen’s CODE Lab in San Francisco. “We want to gain a comprehensive understanding of how this technology can be used in an entrepreneurial way. Traffic optimization is one of them: Transport companies and taxi companies in large cities are very interested in efficient fleet management. Our traffic control system could support them in the future”.
Up to now, the development of practically usable software for quantum computers has been regarded more as a topic for scientists than for practitioners in application companies. For this reason, Volkswagen’s program should represent an interesting milestone in the development of quantum computer software. D-Wave President Bo Ewald also described the development of applications in connection with Volkswagen’s achievement as “the next big step in the coming age of quantum computers”.
For the newly developed traffic guidance system, the Volkswagen experts are using anonymized movement data from smartphones or transmitters in the vehicles to first determine traffic congestion and the number of people, i.e. potential passengers, on conventional computers. The second step – optimization – is performed by the quantum algorithm, for which the experts envisage various options. For example, it would be possible to allocate the exact number of vehicles to different destinations in advance (so-called “demand spots”) in order to provide all waiting people there with a means of transport.
Such a system in practical use could avoid empty trips by taxis and buses as well as a shortage of vehicles at highly demanded locations. Taxi operators could reduce expensive empty runs, and public transport companies could add demand-dependent additional services to their regular timetables. For Volkswagen, on the other hand, there is the potential to offer the quantum-optimized traffic management system as a commercial service. The Volkswagen experts also see potential applications for their algorithm with regard to networking traffic infrastructure and vehicles, especially autonomous vehicles.
The Volkswagen and D-Wave experts intend to present the project at the WebSummit technology conference in Lisbon. The car manufacturer than plans to test the algorithm in Barcelona first, as it has a sufficient database for this city. The company is working together with telecommunications service provider Orange and data science specialist Teralytics.
In the field of quantum computing, the Volkswagen Group is cooperating with the technology partners Google and D-Wave, which give the Volkswagen experts access to their systems. Also competitor Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) is conducting tests with quantum computers.