Sharing my key lessons from a day spent talking quantum technologies, transport challenges, and Formula One.
Last week I was lucky enough to be techUK’s delegate to Innovate UK’s Quantum Technologies for Transport event at the Williams Conference Centre.
The event provided an opportunity to identify a series of key challenges in the transport sector, and develop an understanding of how solutions may lie in quantum technology development. Oh...and there was a tour of the Williams Grand Prix Collection.
Before I continue, I must admit that my understanding of quantum prior to this event was, well, to be generous...lacking. While I still have only a basic understanding of specific quantum concepts, what I do now have is a stronger understanding of the relationship between transport industry actors and the quantum research community, and where the challenges and opportunities lie.
So, while I cannot give you with an “everything you need to know about quantum” download, I can give you my three takeaways from my day at Williams (that aren’t Formula One related!)
1. Actors within the transport industry have clearly identified challenges and are very willing to discuss them.The first session of the day had speakers from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, SAIC Motor Technical Centre UK, and Network Rail. Attendees were briefed on key theoretical and practical challenges they currently face. For example, Network Rail referred to its challenge statements that guide R&D programmes that are helping it achieve its “future vision as set out in the Rail Technical Strategy”. For CCAVs, QT’s role is currently focused on addressing a series of “real world environment” challenges, such as addressing weather visibility, improving positioning and navigation capabilities, and improving object detection and classification (particularly relating to dynamic objects in a road environment).
2. Quantum doesn’t hold the answer to everything, but researchers do believe it can be best applied to developing sensors, secure communications and computing and analytics. The University of Birmingham sent some serious brain power to the conference, one of whom included Dr. Nicole Metje, a civil engineer turned quantum sensor developer. As an example of real-world applications, we were given an overview of the role for QT gravity sensors in civil engineering – such as for railway assets. While I did not comprehend the full extent of the technological specificities, it was promising to see the R&D projects providing useful outputs that directly address some key transport challenges in the UK. Applications for QT in the various sectors of the transport industry are also further along the R&D process than I had perhaps expected.
3. Government departments and relevant agencies are providing opportunities to ensure engagement with start-ups and SMEs. This was a direct question to the first panel (whose members were CCAV, SAIC and Network Rail) – “how easy is it for start-ups who are developing solutions to these challenges to engage with these organisations?” The various speakers referred to a series of competitions, research grants and knowledge hubs and organisations that are working to bring the wider ecosystem together.
In all, it was a big day of learning, and a fantastic opportunity to hear directly from organisations that have identified QT as an opportunity to address practical challenges that the future of transport is presenting today’s industry actors.