The Volkswagen Group says it is making further progress in its work with quantum computers. For the first time, Volkswagen experts say they have succeeded in developing on a quantum computer a traffic management system that will replace forecasts of urban traffic volumes, transport demand, and travel times by precise calculations. As a result, public transport organizations, taxi companies, and transport service providers will reportedly be able to deploy their fleets more efficiently, minimizing wait times for passengers. Volkswagen and quantum computing specialist D-Wave presented the project at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon.

For this future-oriented computing technology, Volkswagen sees considerable potential for new applications within the company and new business models.

“Volkswagen is forging ahead with practically oriented research on quantum computers and gaining essential specialist knowledge,” said Florian Neukart, Principal Scientist at Volkswagen’s CODE Lab in San Francisco. “We want to gain an in-depth understanding of applications of this technology which could be beneficial to the company. This includes traffic optimization, as public transport organizations and taxi companies in large cities are highly interested in managing their fleets efficiently. Our quantum-optimized traffic management system could assist them in the future.”

“The next era of quantum computing is application development, and D-Wave has been focused on enabling practical quantum application development since day one,” said Bo Ewald, D-Wave President. “Volkswagen’s innovative work using D-Wave quantum computers to pursue applications in traffic optimization is an example of the real-world impact quantum computing can have on both business operations and people’s everyday lives.”

For the newly developed traffic management system, Volkswagen uses anonymized movement data (from smart phones or transmitters in vehicles) to calculate traffic accumulations and the numbers of people involved (i.e., possible passengers) on conventional computers. The second step, optimization, is completed by the quantum algorithm, and Volkswagen has considered a number of options. For example, it would be possible to assign precise numbers of vehicles to different destinations (“demand spots”) on a predictive basis and provide transport for specific numbers of people.

This would mean that taxis and buses waiting a long time for passengers or driving considerable distances without passengers would be just as much a thing of the past as a shortage of vehicles in locations with significant demand. Taxi operators could reduce expensive empty operation, and public transport operators could add additional trips to their fixed timetables in line with demand. For Volkswagen, this development means that the quantum-optimized traffic management system could be offered as a commercial service. With respect to the networking of traffic infrastructure and vehicles, the Volkswagen experts also see application possibilities for their algorithm, especially for autonomous vehicles.

The Volkswagen experts first want to test the algorithm in Barcelona, as they have an adequate database for this city. They are cooperating with the telecommunications service provider, Orange, and data science specialists, Teralytics. As a general principle, the algorithm could be scaled up or down for any city.

IT experts from Volkswagen, including data scientists, computer linguists, and software engineers, are working together at the IT labs in San Francisco and Munich to develop the potential of quantum computers for applications that will be beneficial for the company. The main focus is on the programming of algorithms on quantum computers, which are subject to different laws than in the case of conventional computers. In the field of quantum computing, Volkswagen is cooperating with technology partners Google and D-Wave, who provide the Volkswagen experts with access to their systems.