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IonQ strikes quantum computing deal with aerospace giant Airbus

Quantum computing is in its infancy, but use cases for businesses are beginning to emerge at pace.

By Ryan Morrison

Quantum computing company IonQ has signed a deal with Airbus to collaborate on an aircraft-loading project that will explore ways quantum technology can benefit the aerospace services industry, including improving fuel efficiency and cargo loading. It comes as two other quantum developers, Multiverse Computing and IQM, team up to create task-specific quantum processors for finance and logistics companies.

IonQ is a trapped ion quantum computing company and plans to run algorithms on its machines for Airbus to improve cargo loading (Photo: IonQ)
IonQ is a trapped ion quantum computing company and plans to run algorithms on its machines for Airbus to improve cargo loading. (Photo courtesy of IonQ)

Known as the Quantum aircraft loading optimisation and quantum machine learning project, the goal is to have a prototype aircraft-loading application to run on quantum computers within a year and train engineers on how to apply quantum technology to Airbus operations.

Aerospace companies are ramping up investment in emerging technology as a way to combat the supply chain crisis caused by factors including Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine and hope to use it to find areas for improved efficiency including around loading cargo.

IonQ’s quantum machines will allow for smart algorithms that could lead to cost savings due to more optimised distribution of both cargo and flights, something that would take classical computers much longer to calculate, the company claims. It could also long-term lead to improvements in other areas of air travel including reducing fuel consumption and improving aerodynamics.

“As the aerospace industry looks for new ways to navigate the continued impact of the pandemic and overcome supply chain hurdles, we’re pleased to collaborate with Airbus and provide them with the quantum tools and expertise to develop improved aircraft-loading capabilities,” said Peter Chapman, CEO and president, IonQ in a statement.

“While it’s still early days in our year-long project, the potential for quantum to reshape how airplane manufacturers balance passenger experience with aircraft production and performance is what excites our team most for what’s next in the aviation industry.”

Airbus isn’t the first company to partner with IonQ. Earlier this year it struck a deal with Hyundai to use quantum processing to develop more efficient electric vehicle batteries.

“Optimisation is critical to achieving aviation sustainability targets,” said Amanda Simpson, vice president for research and technology, Airbus Americas. “We are very excited to explore IonQ’s capabilities to utilise the potential of quantum computing to achieve these targets.”

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Single task quantum processors

While the quantum computing ecosystem is still a work in progress, early use cases are beginning to emerge, and elsewhere in the sector this week, Spanish quantum software provider Multiverse Computing partnered with Finland’s IQM Quantum Computers to develop integrated solutions for specific quantum-based applications with quantum processors designed for targeted tasks.

This will include work in finance, energy, chemistry, logistics, material science and other areas where rapid analysis of data is beneficial. These single-purpose functions can provide an advantage over classical computing even with a single-digit number of qubits.

The Multiverse Singularity SDK will be tightly integrated into the IQM quantum processors to “accelerate the path to quantum advantage” and solve real-world problems.

“We are bringing some of the best quantum experts in this world together to find a fast lane to quantum advantage,” said Dr Peter Eder, head of partnerships of IQM Quantum Computers, which raised $131m earlier this year. “Our customers and end-users globally will benefit from this unique joint offering and we can’t wait to share the results of this collaboration.”

The SDK is a quantum software plug-in and quantum-inspired algorithm that works across a range of applications including optimisation, machine learning and simulations, meaning it can more easily be tailored to work with a single function quantum processor.

“While Multiverse can offer added value today with our quantum-inspired solutions, being a part of a custom full-stack solution is key for Singularity’s adoption and will ultimately drive the adoption of quantum computing technologies,” said Mehdi Bozzo-Rey, chief revenue officer at Multiverse Computing. “This combined offering means both our customers can explore the power of quantum computing with customised solutions dedicated to solving their particular business challenges.”

IQM's Raghunath Koduvayur told Tech Monitor that application-specific quantum computers with dedicated processors is a sweet spot for customers without the large R&D budget to invest in more powerful quantum machines.

“There are different solutions for different customers and budgets," he said. "These low-qubit task-specific processors are useful for customers with current demand but we can also offer a pathway to 100 qubits where they get upgrades as higher qubit computers become available.”

Koduvayur's comments reflect an industry still in its infancy. While a pathway to a 100-qubit machine is open to customers, many manufacturers believe it will not be until machines powered by 1,000 qubits hit the market that significant performance benefits can be achieved versus classical computers, particularly in areas like machine learning and data processing.

Read more: Does the Ministry of Defence need a quantum computer?

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