Delivering value right now with quantum computing
Some refer to quantum computers as a big technological bubble in which people will soon lose interest, others believe that it might take decades to see some significant breakthrough in this field. For other companies and experts, quantum computing is already here. Tina Sebastian, CEO of Quacoon and a seasoned expert in both computer science and manufacturing, is convinced that quantum technology can already bring significant value to Industry 4.0 and supply chain management.
Where do all these different views come from? First of all, it depends on the technology and the quantum computing method employed. Some are closer to real-life applications; while others are in the early experimental phase. Secondly, it depends on the type of problem scientists attempt to tackle. A quantum computer might provide competitive value sooner in optimization problems, than in areas such as drug design or material science. Thirdly, it strongly depends on the people’s perspective. Theoretical and academic researchers tend to be more reserved, while business representatives are more eager to find use cases and practical applications for each technological advancement.
Different technologies, different applications
Currently, the main quantum computing methods are the universal quantum gate model and the quantum annealing. While gate-based models are expected to have applications in a large variety of areas (including breaking RSA cryptography), quantum annealers run adiabatic quantum algorithms and focus on a narrower niche; namely on problems which involve choosing the optimum answer among a large number of solutions. These so-called “optimization problems” have a high number of variables, with multiple interactions and constraints among them. As these variables and interactions scale exponentially, a classical computer cannot handle them anymore. Or, the time necessary to get a response would be too long for the solution to be considered useful.
Added value in the manufacturing industry
Quacoon aims to bring quantum annealers and their adiabatic algorithms into the manufacturing sector, with a focus on supply chain optimization and traceability. In combination with other technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, quantum computing is considered a viable solution in making supply chains more reactive in real-time.
“Think about how the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic were marked by a shortage of certain products. Even if we have educated experts to design the best supply chains possible, the current classical computers encounter problems when faced with unexpected situations. There is still a lack of flexibility and reactivity, which in turn leads to shortages and disruptions.”
Adjusting to sudden and unexpected changes in the environment currently requires human intervention, intensive pen-and-paper labor to recalculate schedules, minimize downtime, and re-establish the previous level of productivity. Sebastian is convinced that quantum technology can be invaluable in these types of situations by recalculating the major parameters in real-time and minimizing losses.
Despite being considered by some critics as simply glorified versions of classical computers, quantum annealers are a significant part of the quantum ecosystem. Besides companies such as D-Wave that build and provide access to hardware, some start-ups develop applications tailored to this technology and conduct pilot projects within different industries. For example, Volkswagen used a quantum annealer for the first time with a real-time workload to manage its fleet of buses. Meanwhile, Toyota used the technology for traffic signal optimization. Other possible applications are envisioned in the design of peptides, computational biology, optimization problems in healthcare or quantum-assisted training of deep neural networks.
However, as in any emergent field, there is much uncertainty as to which technology will bring the highest return on investment and will provide the much expected “quantum advantage” (solving a real-life problem that is not solvable on a classical computer). Therefore, most solution providers, including Quacoon, develop their algorithms to be compatible with multiple hardware platforms and to assure a scalable architecture that can be employed irrespective of the particularities of the problem.
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