02 May 2024

Event round-up: Quantum readiness: the transport sector and quantum computing 

Catch-up on what was said at our event on how quantum can support the transport industry.

This month, we were delighted to convene a discussion on how the transport sector can leverage the power of quantum technologies to solve longstanding industry challenges.  

Speakers included Stuart Dick, Head of Quantum Technologies, Department for Transport; Nadia Hoodbhoy, Principal Engineer Technical Authority, Network Rail; Andre Carvalho, Head of Quantum Control Solutions, Q-CTRL and David Burnett, Director, D-Wave Systems.  

You can watch the full session and read the summary below.


Transport is a huge quantum opportunity  

The UK’s transport sector is full of opportunities for quantum technology to tackle questions that traditional technologies have struggled to answer. The Department for Transport’s Quantum Programme is exploring how a wide range of quantum technologies can be leveraged across the industry from quantum annealing to support automated vehicles routing to quantum communications to protect against the cyber security threats.  

The UK’s rail infrastructure, one of the densest networks of track and stations anywhere in the world, presents a unique opportunity for quantum technology to help drive optimisation in a way that has been difficult, or impossible, to achieve through conventional approaches.   

Every week day, Network Rail, the public sector body managing the infrastructure, must keep over 24,000 trains moving amidst a range of variable factors including weather events, maintenance and technical faults. This is a huge challenge, often resulting in delays, cancellations and disruption, but Network Rail also sees an opportunity to use quantum computing to improve its ability to plan and optimise the in a more dynamic and responsive manner.  

To explore the art of the possible, it recently begun working with Q-CTRL to explore how the technology can help in the creation of a more reliable, cost-effective and sustainable railway. The project, delivered using funds secured through the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Catalyst Fund, is still in its infancy but is hoped will lead to valuable lessons on the how public sector can leverage the technology.   

It’s just a tool in a box

A key message of the event is that quantum is most effectively harnessed when viewed as a tool in a wider toolbox of solutions.   

In quantum computing, for example, end-users should firstly consider what complex challenges they face, ask why they have struggled harnessing classical techniques and work with the sector to explore whether a quantum solution may exist. This can also lead to a ‘rebound effect’ where classical computing solutions are improved on the basis that quantum technology changed organisational mindset.  

In transport, this approach is key given the high levels of public scrutiny that public sector bodies are under to provide a reliable service that is value for money for the taxpayer. Central here is starting small, proving the concept and then scaling-up to help to de-risk the activity. However, it was recognised that a mindset shift is required within public sector to overcome longstanding barriers to adoption including a resistance to change and fear of failure. In 2023, techUK published a report setting out key recommendations for quantum commercialisation 

Looking ahead  

Quantum is one of the UK Government's five key technologies which will continue to grow in prominence as it matures and scales. For transport, the industry looks forward to the publication of the DfT’s Quantum Vision this summer that will the direction of travel in the sector.    

Work is also underway to explore the convergence of quantum with other emerging technologies with the DfT’s Science and Technology Directorate, as well as linking between the classical and quantum problems.  

techUK looks forward to continuing to engage with the DfT on a range of technology areas, including its forthcoming AI Strategy, to develop awareness and maintain its status as an early adopter of technology across government. More information on our transport work is available on our Smart Infrastructure & Systems Hub and quantum work on our Tech and Innovation Hub.  


techUK – Unleashing UK Tech and Innovation 

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The UK is home to emerging technologies that have the power to revolutionise entire industries. From quantum to semiconductors; from gaming to the New Space Economy, they all have the unique opportunity to help prepare for what comes next.

techUK members lead the development of these technologies. Together we are working with Government and other stakeholders to address tech innovation priorities and build an innovation ecosystem that will benefit people, society, economy and the planet - and unleash the UK as a global leader in tech and innovation.

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