Ford Partners With NASA On Quantum Computing to Improve Efficiency of Fleet Vehicles

Ford is putting on its lab coat and learning about the behavior of matter on a subatomic level.

byStephen Edelstein| PUBLISHED Oct 2, 2018 10:01 AM
Ford Partners With NASA On Quantum Computing to Improve Efficiency of Fleet Vehicles

Ford is the latest automaker to experiment with quantum computing, a technology that promises vastly increased number-crunching power, to learn about and improve the fuel efficiency of fleet vehicles. While the Blue Oval is still in the "discovery phase" on quantum computing, it has hired specialists and is collaborating with NASA on the technology, Ford Chief Technology Officer Ken Washington wrote in a blog post.

Quantum computers operate based on quantum mechanics, the laws of physics that describe the behavior of matter on a subatomic level. This allows them to encode information in more ways than the binary zeros and ones of conventional digital computers. Quantum computers can process information at a much faster rate, and tackle more complex problems.

Ford will work with the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. The automaker will use a "quantum annealer" shared between NASA, Google, and the Universities Space Research Association to see if quantum computing can be used to... help fleet managers improve the fuel efficiency of diesel delivery vehicles.

It's not the most exciting problem, but it is an important one. Modern diesel trucks use particulate filters to reduce exhaust emissions, but the "efficient operation of the filter and overall efficient engine operation only happen in specific driving conditions," Washington noted. Ford plans to calculate the optimal route for a vehicle that maximizes efficiency while still allowing for multiple delivery stops. The number of variables involved traffic patterns, speed changes, the number and location of stops would make this difficult to model with a conventional computer, Washington said.

"Beyond route planning, we believe quantum computing can make an impact in a number of other areas as technology evolves, including materials development, manufacturing, and battery chemistry optimization," Washington wrote. But he said engineers must first learn to "ask questions in a quantum framework" so computers understand them. Hence the route-planning experiment.

Ford isn't the only automaker that believes quantum computing has untapped potential. Volkswagen has used the technology for traffic management in Beijing and to research new materials for electric-car batteries. Daimler has partnered with Google to find automotive uses for quantum computing.