By John P. Desmond, AI Trends Editor
While quantum computing is seen by most as futuristic, not quite out of the research lab, German automaker BMW is putting quantum computing into practice, one of the first real world uses of the technology.
BMW is using a Honeywell quantum computer to find more efficient ways to purchase the many components that go into its vehicles, according to a recent account in cnet.
Honeywell recently made its quantum computers available as a service, through the use of Honeywell Quantum Credits, representing the size of a quantum computational job run on the system. The number of HQCs required to run a given computation is determined by a formula that considers the number of single- and two-qubit gates, measurement operations, and shots (circuit repetitions), according to Honeywell.
BMW seeks to determine which components should be purchased from which supplier and at what time, to ensure the lowest cost while maintaining production schedules. One supplier might be faster and another might have a lower price for a given component, for example. The machine will optimize the choices from a range of options and sub-options.
“We are excited to investigate the transformative potential of quantum computing on the automotive industry and are committed to extending the limits of engineering performance,” said Julius Marcea, a BMW Group IT chief, in a statement.
BMW started evaluating quantum computing in 2018, according to Marcea, and the company has many ideas for its application. It could improve battery chemistry in electric vehicles, and calculate the best places to install charging stations, and address a range of requirements in design and manufacturing, from cost and safety to aerodynamics and durability.
Yet it is still very early days for quantum computing. “Our experts anticipate that it will take some more years until real quantum computers can be used for commercial benefit,” Marcea stated.
IBM Fleshing Out its Quantum Computing Plans in More Detail
IBM recently announced more detail for its quantum computing roadmap, originally unveiled in September 2020, to include the software layers required to make this new computing more accessible to software developers, according to an account in ComputerWeekly. IBM plans to extend its Qiskit execution environment to increase the capacity to run more circuits at a faster rate, and adding the capability to store quantum programs so that other users can run them as a service. This could pave the way to making quantum computing available as a service within enterprises.
By 2023, IBM said it plans to offer entire families of pre-built runtimes, callable from a cloud-based application programming interface (API) using a variety of common development frameworks to apply quantum computing to tackle industry-specific problems.
“A big part of our software strategy is to continue to use and create open source tools, eventually converting some into first-class cloud-native components,” stated IBM in a blog post. “This will allow us to continue scaling and extending our quantum software so that users can take advantage of our architecture while running quantum programs in a secure and reliable way.”
Also, “Users will be able to install and use some components from our software stack directly in their preferred cloud architectures.”
Microsoft Opens Azure Quantum for Business
Microsoft also unveiled more details in its quantum computing roadmap in the same week as IBM, partly through its alliance with Honeywell. “You can access quantum computing capabilities in the cloud from our hardware partners, Honeywell Quantum Solutions and IonQ, through their trapped-ion quantum systems,” stated Krysta Svore, general manager at Microsoft Quantum, on the Microsoft blog.
She added, “Azure Quantum, the world’s first full-stack, public cloud ecosystem for quantum solutions, is now open for business.” Research to solve problems in chemistry, medicine, finance, and logistics could be accelerated, she suggested.
Toshiba and 1QBit, offering optimization solutions, are also participating partners. “This new generation of algorithms apply quantum principles for increased speed and accuracy, running at scale on a range of silicon including CPU, GPU and FPGA [field-programmable gate array],” Score stated.
Quantum hardware may reach the power and reliability to allow for commercial applications within five years, in the view of IBM, according to an account in VentureBeat. The challenge today is to enable the tools and environment to let companies and developers start experimenting with writing the applications that would use the power of quantum hardware.
IBM’s Q Network Seeks to Train Quantum “Native Developers”
“Nobody is using quantum computing commercially yet,” stated Bob Sutor, IBM vice president of quantum ecosystem development. “That will follow mid-decade or so. But it’s not something you can wake up and just suddenly be an expert overnight. So typically, what you see is that the leaders in the field will move to new technology, and they start experimenting with it to develop that expertise.”
Quantum startups have been attracting steady amounts of money from VCs, including Zapata with $38 million for quantum machine learning, IQM with $46 million to commercialize its quantum computers, and Classiq with $10.5 million for its modeling tool for building algorithms for quantum computers.
To help seed the market, IBM in 2016 launched the Q Network, which allows companies to begin experimenting with quantum computers via the company’s cloud service. According to Sutor, the Q Network now has more than 135 organizations, including corporations such as JP Morgan Chase and Exxon, as well as universities and startups.
Promising areas for the use of powerful quantum calculations include natural sciences and chemistry, problem optimization and some parts of AI. One scenario is that a developer runs an application on a laptop but at a specific stage, sends a request via the cloud to a quantum computer to perform a calculation, with a value returned to the laptop.
To make the quantum resource more accessible, IBM created the open source quantum programming framework called Qiskit, which aims to help speed up computation for applications by 100 times. IBM is trying to enlarge the pool of developers who can write applications for quantum computers with efforts including a free online course. They had hopes for 200 or so to show interest, but it attracted 4,000 developers. IBM partnered with a coding school to create a program for 5,000 students. When 10,000 tried to register, the class size was increased to 6,000.
“We’re raising the first generation of quantum-native developers,” Sutor stated. “These are people who are learning quantum computing at the same time they’re learning how to code.”