How Can Governments Use Quantum Computing for Public Sector?
Quantum computing technology is at a unique inflection point today. Through cloud access to systems and the availability of quantum-hybrid technologies, governments can now begin to build near-term applications for important public sector needs.
Global leaders are pursuing international quantum agreements, and in early May, governmental quantum leaders participated in a roundtable to discuss how they can work together on quantum. The United Kingdom joined government leaders on quantum from the United States, Canada, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland discussing how international cooperation can accelerate discovery, and how governments can jointly address global challenges with quantum technology.
With a global focus on quantum technology, can quantum computing technologies address public sector problems today? The simple answer to the question, can today’s practical quantum computing technology play a role in these efforts is “yes”, for many use cases and areas.
Quantum annealing is uniquely suited to tackle optimization problems, many of which are at the heart of public sector needs. From startups to Fortune 500 companies, commercial enterprises have been benefiting from quantum computing for years, and many of those applications directly relate to public sector interests.
Designing sophisticated transportation networks is an intractable problem for classical computing systems once the task reaches a certain size. Fortunately, quantum computers — with their ability to solve complex problems with various variables and constraints — can step in to fill the gap. Quantum computers can simultaneously map different modes of transportation in real time, updating routes and schedules to solve for disruptions. In terms of air travel operations, we’ve seen applications which optimize flight gate assignments at European airports. The Australian Department of Defense looked at quantum computing to optimize how autonomous vehicles resupply army forces from a central base. And Volkswagen has already solved a problem like this using annealing quantum computing technology: VW routed buses to optimize traffic flow in Lisbon, Portugal in 2019. Whether it be roadways, rails, airways, or waterways, today’s quantum technology has the power to solve significant challenges for key infrastructure projects through intelligent design.
The global pandemic, and current events, have proven that there is a critical need to optimize emergency response. From vaccine distribution to humanitarian aid, finding a way to do things in a better and faster manner is critically important. Tokyo-based Sigma-i used D-Wave’s quantum cloud to develop optimum tsunami evacuation routes and to increase the efficiency of automated robotic carts moving materials around within a factory. From March 2020-March 2021, D-Wave opened up access to our cloud-based quantum computing technology to anyone working on COVID-19 response to support innovation during a critical time. Sigma-i also worked on route planning for transporting large numbers of COVID-19 patients to and from a medical facility.
Many applications of quantum computing to address the global pandemic emerged from the free access provided by D-Wave: modeling and simulation of the spread of the virus, assessing the rate of virus mutation, scheduling of nurses and other hospital resources, and optimizing operations for critical industries, such as grocery. These new use cases showcase just a few examples of how governments can use today’s annealing quantum computers to build applications to address emergency response, optimize humanitarian aid, and facilitate vaccine distributions.
The strain on the global supply chain has been felt by nearly every government and individual. In the maritime industry, global ports are looking at how quantum computing can assist with optimizing the flow of goods. SavantX has built an application piloted by the Port of Los Angeles in the U.S. to ease backlogs by increasing the capacity and velocity of cargo movement. Today’s manufacturers are also looking at quantum computing to build applications to speed up their operations. Denso, a Japanese auto parts manufacturer, has piloted using quantum annealers to optimize the routes of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and was able to reduce AGV traffic jams by 15 percent, thereby increasing productivity and reducing costs. GE Research has also been looking at how quantum computing applications can help with moving their parts through a repair shop floor more efficiently. Bin packing, packing goods into a number of bins of limited capacity, is a common problem for many manufacturers, one that can be difficult for classical computation but well-suited for quantum-hybrid applications. If goods were packed more efficiently, loaded onto trucks, trains, and ships in an optimal manner, and shipped via routes optimized for lower travel times, the collective impact could ease supply chain strains. From more efficient manufacturing practices, better bin packing for delivery, and optimization of delivery networks and global ports, all of these have a use case which are possible today with annealing quantum computers.
Lowering carbon emissions is a global focus and one that the United Kingdom has been addressing head on. With a goal to slash emissions by 78% by 2035 and get to net zero by 2050, the UK should look to all available technologies, including quantum computing, to help achieve those objectives. Groovenauts, a Japan-based company, used quantum-powered machine learning to optimize garbage collection routes in Tokyo. Their pilot showed a significant uptick in efficiency using quantum technology, and even modeled a nearly 60% reduction in carbon emissions. There are a wide variety of public sector needs from waste collection, mail delivery and more that can benefit from quantum applications. And, if each one uses a quantum application aimed at lowering CO2 emissions for their specific area, it could provide a significant benefit in the sustainability objectives of government.
Broadband and 5G Access
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of equitable access to broadband internet and improved mobile connectivity, and quantum computers can help. DCMS has been focusing on broadband and 5G roll outs for many years, but there is more that can be done when incorporating a quantum-hybrid application. Telecom Italia became the first telecommunications operator in Europe to implement quantum computing algorithms in planning its next-generation mobile networks. The company worked with D-Wave to optimize the implementation of telecom infrastructure, performing the task “10 times faster than traditional optimisation methods.” Beyond a speedup in efficiency, quantum computers enable these types of solutions to be adaptable, configuring networks in real time and improving service quality.
So What Should Governments Do?
Creating a “quantum sandbox” within government aimed at developing proof-of-concepts and testing near-term quantum applications provides a unique way to begin using today’s technology. A sandbox can serve as a living lab program, run through a public-private partnership. It could develop and deploy near-term quantum-hybrid applications for a variety of public sector areas in a rapid timeframe. The President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee in the United States recommended a sandbox for communications resiliency. A dedicated quantum computing sandbox program in the U.K. can serve as a useful tool for not only educating on today’s technology capabilities, but also with each application developed, it provides a feedback loop for additional innovation and acceleration of commercialization.
So much can be done with the technology that is available today. Governments should take the first step now and start on the journey to quantum.
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.
During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.
Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.
Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.