18 Sep 2023
by Dr Alan Baratz

Commercialising Quantum: Use case identification and application development are the roadmap for success

Guest blog from Dr Alan Baratz, CEO of D-Wave. Part of techUK's #SuperchargeUKTech Week 2023.

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As interest in and adoption of quantum increases, truly understanding the technology remains challenging, especially recognizing its full capabilities and availability. The time is ripe for commercialisation of quantum computing due to critical progress that has occurred in recent years. Therefore, it is important to demystify the technology, cut through the hype, and provide clarity on how the technology can solve real-world problems, today.

First, let’s clarify that not all quantum is the same. There are two primary approaches to quantum computing: annealing and gate-model.  Both are comprised of quantum bits, or qubits, which are quantum computing’s version of bits, classical computing’s most basic form of information. The quantum mechanical effects of qubits allow for greater and faster computational power and will be capable of tackling problems outside the reach of classical systems alone.

Each quantum system has unique strengths and is advancing along different timelines.  “Quantum annealing is a type of quantum technology that can be used to find the best-fit solution for optimization problems,” noted by the IDC Spotlight paper, “Gaining Near-Term Advantage Using Quantum Annealing,” sponsored by D-Wave. In fact, applications utilising quantum annealing technology have already been built and deployed such as addressing supply chain, e-commerce and sustainability. Gate-model systems use a series of quantum gates, which when programmed at a machine level, manipulate qubits to yield computational results. These types of systems are further away from solving real-world problems but will be needed for solving problems such as quantum chemistry or material design. However, the current size of gate model systems lends them to research or experimentation vs. real-world applications.

It is also important to recognize the importance of hybrid compute resources. Not every part of a problem needs quantum computational power, and classical computation can only go so far. The value lies in quantum-classical hybrid applications, with quantum and classical computation working synergistically to solve problems. Hybrid applications break apart the problem and routes the parts best suited for classical computation, and the hardest parts to the quantum system.  Many commercial applications are utilizing quantum-hybrid technologies. Our clients have built hundreds of applications solving a diverse array of computationally complex problems. For example,  a Canadian grocery retailer uses quantum-hybrid applications daily to optimise their e-commerce grocery delivery service. Hybrid technologies combined with real- time cloud access to commercial quantum systems, make this a key inflection point for increased commercialisation focus.


Public and private sectors can benefit from today’s quantum

To expedite commercialisation of the quantum industry, governments and the private sector must prioritise initiating a quantum journey. Optimisation problems are ubiquitous across all sectors. Successful commercialisation hinges upon selecting problems best suited to benefit from today’s quantum technology.

Within the public sector, the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C)’s ‘QuEnergy’ report highlighted problems where quantum computing applications have significant impact for utilities, including energy market optimisation, fault prediction, integrated planning and optimization for grid reliability and resilience. Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) was the world’s first transport organisation to announce it was exploring how quantum applications can optimize its network. This collaboration project between the New South Wales (NSW) government and TfNSW demonstrates the wide-ranging benefits of these computational programs. There are many more potential uses for quantum technology in the public sector, especially within the fields of emergency management and response, sustainability, and supply chain. In the United States, the Port of Los Angeles used quantum applications to optimise a cargo pier to increase truck turnaround times by 12% and reduce crane movement, easing supply chain strain. In Japan, there is an application that optimised waste collection that also reduced carbon emissions by nearly 60%. 

Additionally, the private sector can benefit from quantum technology. Various applications developed tackle wide-ranging commercial problems including optimising a construction site by up to 10%, and providing efficiency for autonomous vehicles on manufacturing floors by an average of 15%.  An automobile manufacturer’s application reduced waste by nearly 80% in paint shop operations, and an application was developed to optimise complex staff scheduling. In life sciences, there is innovative work by start-ups using quantum computing for drug design and quantum powered protein design for drug discovery, as well as exploration by large pharmaceuticals for mRNA codon optimisation. Furthermore, quantum applications can be harnessed to assist national security and space and satellite industries.

Public and private sectors can benefit from quantum computing applications to address real-world problems. Choosing the best problems to tackle will be key to implementation and successful commercialisation. 


Proven commercialisation process

There is a proven four-step process for integrating any new technology, and it is no different for quantum. To best integrate quantum computing into a complex organisational challenge, organisations should follow these steps:

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This process works whether you’re a start-up, a multinational corporation, or a government entity.  Throughout the four steps, there are professional service teams that possess quantum expertise to expedite quantum application development and integration. Quantum computing companies have their own professional services teams to help customers, but there is also a growing number of start-ups and quantum consultants to assist clients along their quantum journey. 

Real-time cloud access, advancements in hardware and software, and the growing number of professional services teams with quantum expertise supports commercialisation with quantum technologies. The move to using the technology to tackle real-world problems is evident in the latest United Kingdom Quantum Strategy, which incorporated commercialisation. This approach is also gaining traction in other regions including the European Union, Canada, Japan and Australia, among others. 

The key takeaway is that you do not have to wait to start benefitting from quantum computing technology. Commercial cloud quantum computing solutions are readily available today. Posing the question "what problems do we struggle finding answers to?" is the first step. Likely, quantum can play a role in finding better, faster solutions today.

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Dr Alan Baratz

CEO, D-Wave