Ford Motor Company recently signed a $100,000 contract with NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL).
According to a Space Act Agreement acquired by IEEE Spectrum, the contract will allow the automotive company to utilize the agency’s quantum computer, primarily in its self-driving vehicle research.
Signed back in July by Ken Washington, Ford’s chief technology officer, the contract will start an effort to utilize QuAIL’s D-Wave 2000Q quantum annealer in addressing optimization issues, which are of interest to Ford Motor Company.
The quantum annealers are intended to solve a wide array of machine-learning and optimization issues, which in theory are a lot faster than conventional digital computers.
What’s more, quantum computers are able to encode information in qubits, allowing parallel computation that depends on entirely quantum effects. Quantum annealing utilizes quantum interference and tunneling to provide the most efficient solution to an issue.
Ford’s technical expert for quantum computing research Joydip Ghosh told Spectrum that Ford would start by working on the generalization of the classic traveling salesman issue.
“Route management for fleet vehicles is a problem that we face in a real-world scenario. If you try to solve this problem with a computer that we have today, there are so many options that you can easily run out of time. We think that quantum computing could be an alternative computing platform,” he said, referring to Ford’s Chariot microtransit service.
“One of the things we’re hearing from our customers as we’re deploying some early fleets in cities [is that] they’re not being deployed optimally. That’s a real problem we need to have an answer to. Ultimately, we’ll bring autonomous vehicles and ride services to those cities in a smart way that actually makes the experience in the cities better,” added Washington.
The agreement requires Ford to give NASA scientists two or three optimization cases for mapping into Quadratic Unconstrained Binary Optimization (QUBO), which is the kind of input that is approved by the company’s $15 million D-Wave annealer.
In turn, NASA is expected to train a Ford Researcher on how to utilize its computer, deliver feedback and offer regular access to it.
Despite its efforts, Ford is not the first car manufacturer to venture into quantum computing.
Back in 2017, Volkswagen utilized a quantum annealer in optimizing routes, particularly for 10,000 taxis in the traffic-congested Beijing. The researchers also said that quantum annealing would work for time-sensitive tasks such as traffic optimization.
Florian Neukart, the principal scientist, is convinced that Volkswagen is currently utilizing quantum in improving its reinforcement learning methods, specifically for software agents to get more knowledge regarding the interaction with their environment.
“The goal is to show that we can augment artificial intelligence techniques with quantum computers. We came up with a formulation allowing us to evaluate multiple configurations of a neural network in one annealing cycle,” he told Spectrum.
Volkswagen is also convinced that quantum computing could assist in stimulating molecules to create new batteries, which are the largest cost driver for electric vehicles today. “These are not new battery materials yet, but our intention is to show that quantum computers are useful for this field of applications,” he said.