By Dr. Ken Washington, Chief Technology Officer, Ford Motor Company
Our connected world has helped billions of people improve their lives in numerous ways such as offering instant access to information, enhancing health care, providing new ways to watch movies or experience music, and equipping our homes with smart speakers.
Yet with all these advancements, many of us find ourselves stuck in more traffic, not less. The fantastic navigation technology that anyone can use and helps us more efficiently get places simply does not have the power to coordinate traffic on a mass scale.
But could it? Through a joint research pilot, Ford and Microsoft scientists have simulated thousands of vehicles and their impact on congestion by leveraging powerful quantum-inspired technology. While we’re still in the early stages of quantum computing development, encouraging progress has been made that can help us take what we’ve learned in the field and start to apply it to problems we want to solve today, while scaling to more complex problems tomorrow.
Julie Love, senior director at Microsoft leading their quantum computing business development, says, “Quantum computing has the potential to transform the auto industry and the way we move. To do that we need to have a deep understanding of the problems that companies like Ford want to solve, which is why collaborations like these are so important.”
Our researchers teamed up in 2018 to develop new quantum approaches running on classical computers already available to help reduce Seattle’s traffic congestion.
During rush hour driving, numerous drivers request the shortest possible routes at the same time, but current navigation services handle these requests in a vacuum. They do not take into consideration the number of similar incoming requests, including areas where other drivers are all planning to share the same route segments, when delivering results.
Just imagine a family trying to get ready for work and school in the morning with similar departure times. If an individual day planning app gave each person the quickest way to get going, there likely would be a bottle-neck at the bathroom. Now scale that to a family of thousands…
Instead of this type of individualized routing, what if we could develop a more balanced routing system — one that could consider all the various route requests from drivers and optimize route suggestions so that the number of vehicles sharing the same roads is minimized? That sounds great — and could potentially save everyone time, not to mention aggravation — but one major roadblock towards balanced routing is the fact that it would require extensive computational resources.
Simply put, it’s not feasible to have traditional computers find the optimal solution from a huge number of possible route assignments in a timely manner. That’s where quantum computing can help. Essentially, existing digital computers translate information into either a 1 or a 0, otherwise known as a bit. But in a quantum computer, information can be processed by a quantum bit (or a qubit) that can simultaneously exist in two different states before it gets measured. Upon measurement, however, either a 1 or a 0 appears randomly and the probability for each is governed by a set of rules called quantum mechanics.
This ultimately enables a quantum computer to process information with a faster speed. Attempts to simulate some specific features of a quantum computer on non-quantum hardware have led to quantum-inspired technology — powerful algorithms that mimic certain quantum behaviors and run on specialized conventional hardware. That enables organizations to start realizing some benefits before fully-scaled quantum hardware becomes available.