Quantum computing has long been held out as the next step in computing. Despite still being highly experimental, there continue to be major strides made in the field. One such example is a partnership between Ford and Microsoft, aimed at understanding and alleviating traffic congestion.
In a blog post on Medium, Dr. Ken Washington, Chief Technology Officer, Ford Motor Company, details the study:
“Through a joint research pilot, Ford and Microsoft scientists have simulated thousands of vehicles and their impact on congestion by leveraging powerful quantum-inspired technology. While we’re still in the early stages of quantum computing development, encouraging progress has been made that can help us take what we’ve learned in the field and start to apply it to problems we want to solve today, while scaling to more complex problems tomorrow.”
One of the study’s goals was to find balanced ways of routing traffic. For example, almost everyone wants to take the shortest route possible when traveling. However, as Dr. Washington points out, requests to navigation software are made and fulfilled in a vacuum. The software doesn’t know how many other drivers have been routed through that exact route. If too many drivers all try to go the shortest route at the same time, those routes quickly become clogged. In contrast, if more balanced routes are taken by drivers in a large area, bottlenecks are avoided, roads remain open and everyone arrives at their destinations much faster than normal.
Traditional computing is not capable of processing this much data and delivering results fast enough to be useful. Quantum computing, in contrast, is ideally suited for these kind of applications.
“Working with Microsoft, we tested several different possibilities, including a scenario involving as many as 5,000 vehicles — each with 10 different route choices available to them — simultaneously requesting routes across Metro Seattle. In 20 seconds, balanced routing suggestions were delivered to the vehicles that resulted in a 73 percent improvement in total congestion when compared to ‘selfish’ routing. The average commuting time, meanwhile, was also reduced by 8 percent — an annual reduction of more than 55,000 hours saved in congestion across this simulated fleet.
“These results are promising, so now we’re expanding our partnership with Microsoft to further improve the algorithm and understand its effectiveness in more real-world scenarios. For example, will this method still deliver similar results when some streets are known to be closed, if route options aren’t equal for all drivers, or if some drivers decide to not follow suggested routes? These and more are all variables we’ll need to test for to ensure balanced routing can truly deliver tangible improvements for cities.”
This study illustrates the benefits of quantum computing, and the many ways it will eventually revolutionize industries.