Manufacturing Bits: Nov. 8

Plasma R&D with quantum computing; better logistics; batteries.


Plasma R&D with quantum computing
Rigetti Computing, a developer of quantum computers, has been selected to lead a quantum simulation project for the development of fusion energy.

The project was awarded by the Department of Energy (DoE). Under the plan, Rigetti will collaborate with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of Southern California on a three-year, $3.1 million project that will simulate plasma dynamics on Rigetti’s quantum computers.

Rigetti is developing a full-stack quantum computer. In traditional computing, the information is stored in bits, which can be either a “0” or “1”. In quantum computing, the information is stored in quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist as a “0” or “1” or a combination of both. The superposition state enables a quantum computer to perform multiple calculations at once, enabling it to outperform a traditional system. But the technology faces a number of challenges, and many industry experts believe these systems are still a decade away from being practical.

Fusion energy is even further out. For years, companies, governments and universities have been working on fusion energy. Fusion, the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and the stars, is a potential source of safe, non-carbon emitting energy on Earth. But developing the technology is challenging. Most, if not all, efforts have shown minimal results or have failed.

Rigetti and the DOE are taking a new approach. Under the program, researchers will apply quantum information science and quantum computing techniques for fusion energy. The project aims to characterize quantum computing’s ability to exceed classical processing for this type of application.

One outcome of this project will be the first exploration of engineered multi-qubit gates and interactions for simulating plasma dynamics on a quantum computer. The project will also develop and apply control pulse engineering and dynamic error suppression techniques that are expected to enable long duration simulations with high-effective gate depth.

The funding is part of an initiative sponsored by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) to further the scientific understanding of plasma physics, the science underpinning fusion energy. Advancing the predictive capabilities needed to develop a sustainable energy source from fusion plasmas could propel the technology.

“The pursuit of fusion energy is one of the most challenging programs of scientific research and development that has ever been undertaken. Because the fusion mission is so computationally intensive, partnering with Rigetti will bring their quantum computing resources to bear on research designed to help create a path towards a safe, clean, and environmentally sustainable future,” said Patricia Falcone, deputy director for science and technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“Rigetti’s quantum computers are ideal for this type of work where computational speed is the current bottleneck to progress. By combining our fast superconducting quantum processors with the high-performance co-processing and programming capabilities available on Rigetti Quantum Cloud Services, the project team can approach the underlying fusion models using powerful capabilities like hybrid quantum-classical solvers and advanced compiler optimizations,” said Matt Reagor, director of engineering for Rigetti.

Better logistics
Toppan and Sigma-i have begun a pilot test program that aims to use quantum annealing to increase the efficiency for logistics.

The test involves applying quantum annealing to Toppan’s MITATE technology, a system that drives improved efficiency and visibility in the logistics industry. Using quantum annealing, the companies will expand the MITATE system’s planning functions to speed up the workloads for vehicle assignment and delivery planning in logistics. The technology is slated for 2025.

One company, D-Wave, has gained attention by using quantum annealing, a technology that solves optimization problems. For example, if you have a problem with many combinations, a quantum annealing system searches for the best of many possible combinations. These capabilities have been demonstrated, at least to some degree.

The technology could be applied to logistics. Over the years, online shopping and other forms of e-commerce has exploded. This in turn is driving the expansion of the logistics. The problem is that the logistics industry faces a shortage of labor, such as cargo dock workers and vehicle drivers. The supply chain is also becoming more complex.

AI and other technologies are being used to optimize logistics systems, according to Toppan. But computation for delivery planning takes time “due to the large number of requirements, such as destination, cargo type, specified arrival time, and vehicle load capacity,” according to Toppan.

That’s where quantum computing fits in. Toppan and Sigma-i are launching a pilot test to develop a delivery planning optimization system using quantum annealing to the MITATE system. MITATE is a cloud-based service that organizes and integrates complicated operational flows. This in turn promises to reduce workloads for vehicle assignment and delivery planning, enhance speed and accuracy, and shorten delivery times.

Toppan is collaborating with the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), QunaSys and ISARA on quantum computing. This project aims to devise and propose a specific structure and operational framework for quantum secure cloud technology.

Sigma-I, a startup spun out of Tohoku University, possesses quantum computing technologies. It will verify the effectiveness of prototype delivery planning tools that make use of quantum computers using annealing techniques.

Better batteries
Toyota Motor has partnered with QunaSys in an effort to find new materials for batteries in electric vehicles, according to a report from Nikkei Asia and TechWire Asia. The companies hope to find new materials using quantum computing.

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