For the first time, the Volkswagen Group (VW) has succeeded in using a quantum computer to develop a traffic management system that will replace forecasting for urban traffic volumes, transport demand and travel times with precise calculations.
VW and quantum computing company D-Wave have been presenting the project at the international WebSummit technology conference that is taking place this week (November 5-8) in Lisbon, Portugal. Quantum computers can solve highly complex tasks such as traffic optimization much faster than conventional supercomputers, and in some cases, a solution is only possible using the new technology. VW sees considerable potential in using this cutting-edge computing methodology for building new applications and business models within the company. With a newly developed quantum algorithm, public transportation organizations, taxi companies, and transport service providers will be able to deploy their fleets considerably more efficiently while minimizing waiting times for passengers.
To develop the new traffic management system, VW experts first analyze anonymized movement data from smartphones or transmitters in vehicles with conventional computers to calculate traffic accumulation and the number of people involved. The second step, optimization, is completed with a quantum algorithm. For example, it’s possible to assign precise numbers of vehicles to different destinations or ‘demand spots’ on a predictive basis to provide transportation for all waiting passengers. This would eliminate costly transportation inefficiencies such as taxis and buses driving considerable distances without passengers, long passenger wait times, or a shortage of vehicles in high-demand locations. Public transportation operators could add additional trips to fixed timetables to better align with demand.
For VW, this quantum-optimized traffic management system could be offered as a new commercial service. The company’s experts also see application possibilities for their algorithm in traffic infrastructure and vehicle networking, especially as it relates to autonomous vehicles. The VW team first want to test the algorithm in Barcelona as they have an adequate database for this city. They are cooperating with the telecommunications service provider Orange and the data science specialist Teralytics. As a general principle, the algorithm could be scaled up or down for any city.
“We are forging ahead with practically-oriented research on quantum computers and are gaining essential specialist knowledge,” said Florian Neukart, principal scientist at VW’s CODE Lab in San Francisco. “We want to gain an in-depth understanding of applications of this technology which could be beneficial to the company, including traffic optimization. Public transport organizations and taxi companies in large cities are highly interested in managing their fleets efficiently. Our quantum-optimized traffic management system could help make that a reality.”
Bo Ewald, D-Wave’s president, added, “The next era of quantum computing is application development, and we have been focused on enabling practical quantum application development since day one. Volkswagen’s innovative work using our quantum computers to pursue applications in traffic optimization is an example of the real-world impact quantum computing can have on business operations and people’s everyday lives.”