Inside Quantum Technology

Sumitomo Project Won’t Let Flying Car Traffic Jams Foul the Future

(By Daniel O’Shea) What comes after digital transformation? Quantum transformation, according to Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. Anyone reading IQT these days probably believes the same, but Sumitomo put a name to the next world-altering technology transformation with its Quantum Transformation Project (QX PJ), announced last spring.

For months, Sumitomo has been talking about using the project to test, among other things, the viability of quantum computing to be used in a traffic control system for “air mobility vehicles.” otherwise known as flying cars (You can’t say Sumitomo isn’t thinking ahead.)

The company last week reported progress on this effort, in which it had worked with OneSky, a provider of unmanned traffic management (UTM) solutions, and Japan’s Tohoku University, which has extensive research experience in a quantum computing optimization method called quantum annealing. Sumitomo said in a statement that the partners were able to conduct a demonstration “of the use of quantum computing to develop a real-time three-dimensional traffic control system for the era when hundreds of thousands of air mobility vehicles will be flying in the sky.”

The partners said they were able to demonstrate that use of such a system leveraging quantum annealing could increase the number of airborne vehicles “that can fly simultaneously by about 70%.”

The statement added, “We have also demonstrated that quantum computing is about 10 times faster than conventional computers in certain problems. In the future, we believe that quantum computers will be able to increase the number of flying cars by further improving their performance, and that air mobility will be able to create new value by providing the shortest and best route for emergency flights that should be prioritized.”

Sumitomo has a fairly large stake in the success of what is being called the future Urban Air Mobility era. In addition to the work through its Quantum Transformation project, Sumitomo last year teamed up with Japan Airlines and Bell Textron to develop flying cars. Creating a new generation of flying vehicles is expected to help ease traffic in urban areas, shorten travel times, make travel to remote areas more convenient, and improve the coordination of emergency transportation. And while the market is in its infancy now, Allied Market Research recently said it will be worth close to $4 billion by 2035.

“To ensure the safety and security of air traffic in the age of air mobility, it is necessary to determine the optimal flight operation considering the ever-changing weather, radio wave conditions, and the situation of other air mobiles,” Sumitomo stated. “However, it may be difficult for conventional computers to find the answer in real time from an exponentially increasing number of combinations. To solve this problem, QX PJ has started a quantum technology demonstration to control a large number of air mobilities in real time.”

Devoting so much work to what is essentially a solution for flying car traffic jams that don’t exist might seem a bit outlandish, but Sumitomo and others are looking ahead a decade or more to make sure traffic management for these vehicles doesn’t need to be figured out on the fly (intentional pun.) Perhaps not so coincidentally, that’s also around the time that optimized, fault tolerant quantum computing in manageable form factors is expected to become a widespread commercial reality. By that time, the world’s quantum transformation might be at the advanced stage where its digital transformation is now.

The results of the demonstration experiment are now available on video.

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