Ford-NASA Partnership Applies Quantum Computing to Autonomous Vehicle Research

Ford-NASA Partnership Applies Quantum Computing to Autonomous Vehicle Research

Author: Michael Cheng   

Autonomous vehicles are known to require colossal amounts of computing power, for data processing and wireless communication. Some automotive developers in the sector are of the view that quantum computing is needed to make driverless transportation a reality.

The only problem is quantum computers are rare and difficult to come by at this time, as the technology has not reached mainstream status. Ford's solution to this challenge is to team up with companies that already have quantum-computing systems. Moving in this direction, the Detroit-based automaker has partnered with NASA's Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL).

Ford-NASA Partnership Details

The collaboration was officially formed in July, with both parties agreeing to a $100,000 contract (supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Act). According to the agreement, the funds will come from Ford, which will be used by NASA to fulfill its responsibilities.  Both parties will work together for an entire year to apply quantum computing in autonomous vehicle research programs.  

"We thought partnering with NASA was a way to quickly come [up] to speed with knowing how to frame a problem in the quantum space, that did not require us to make a substantial capital investment," said Ken Washington, CTO at Ford, during an interview with IEEE Spectrum.

"For us, it's not about having the hardware available, it's about how to solve a problem."

Ford is interested in leveraging NASA QuAIL's D-Wave 2000Q quantum annealer. The robust 2,000-qubit system is capable of processing data exponentially faster, compared to commercial computing units available on the market today. Because of this, quantum computers are ideal for machine-learning applications, large-scale data sampling and cybersecurity.

Surprisingly, Ford's automotive competitors have already tapped into quantum computing, to streamline various data-processing objectives. Volkswagen used the modern computing method to generate optimized taxi routes for a massive fleet consisting of 10,000 vehicles based in Beijing. The Germany-based auto brand is currently leveraging quantum computers to support reinforcement learning techniques in automotive software development.

Route Management with Quantum Computers

In the self-driving industry, quantum computers can be utilized to optimize critical aspects of autonomous vehicles. This is exactly what Ford intends to do with access to NASA's D-Wave quantum annealer. Optimizing routes using quantum computers would be beneficial for autonomous fleets and delivery services.

On the road, driverless cars must take the most efficient route possible. Furthermore, it should decide on the route (or adjust accordingly) in a timely manner. In countries with networks of big cities spanning thousands of routes, the selection process is simply too complex for average computers to take on.

When using the quantum annealer, Ford will first provide several route optimization cases, which will be mapped into Quadratic Unconstrained Binary Optimization (QUBO). This special format is accepted by NASA's quantum-computers. NASA will also ensure access and help train Ford representatives in using the quantum annealer for research purposes.

"One of things we're hearing from our customers as we're deploying some early fleets in cities [is that] they're not being deployed optimally," said Washington.

"That's a real problem we need to have an answer to."

Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng
Michael Cheng is a legal editor and technical writer with publications for Blackberry ISHN Magazine Houzz and Payment Week. He specializes in technology business and digesting hard data. Outside of work Michael likes to train for marathons spend time with his daughter and explore new places.
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