Two Japanese companies have begun a pilot project that leverages quantum annealing, a capability that can be used to calculate a small number of optimal courses of action out of a very large number of possibilities, to improve logistics, an application that virtually any industry can relate to amid ongoing supply chain disruptions.
Tokyo-based Toppan and Tohoku University start-up Sigma-i started the test earlier this month with an eye toward applying quantum annealing to Toppan’s MITATE, a system designed to drive efficiency and visibility improvements in the logistics industry. Expanding the system’s planning functions could alleviate the workload for vehicle assignment and delivery planning, increase speed and accuracy, shorten delivery times, and, as a result, reduce impact on the environment.
Ultimately, the companies are looking to develop a system for enhancing operational efficiency for the entire logistics process with the hope of launching new logistics solutions in the coming years. They said in a statement that they also envision an opportunity to study how quantum annealing might be applied to applications and sectors beyond logistics.
This isn’t the first project aiming to unlock the potential of quantum annealing. Earlier this month, Nikkei reported that Hitachi was using the technology in an effort to optimize train scheduling and operations.
With many moving parts and variables, transportation and logistics applications seem like prime candidates to take advantage of what quantum annealing has to offer, and they need the help now. These sectors are facing pressure from a number of different directions–the pandemic-spurred supply chain disruption, labor shortages, the ongoing e-commerce boom, the evolution of autonomous vehicle fleets and the pressing need to reduce carbon footprints.
Even though this project has just left the starting gate, what Toppan and Sigma-i are doing–applying quantum computing technology now to a real business need that exists today–shows that industries may not need to wait another decade to develop their quantum-based applications.
It’s similar in spirit to what Multiverse is doing. That company just raised new funding to support finance applications running on NISQ-era machines.
Quantum computing is still just emerging. It’s going to be even better in the future, but it might be time to start looking closer at how it can address challenges that many industries have in the present.