Volkswagen breaks new ground in automotive quantum computing

The German company has been working to commercialize this technology for about five years.
3 August 2021

Volkswagen continues to lead in quantum computing within the automotive industry, (Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

  • Volkswagen was first automaker to demo a practical application of quantum computing for route and traffic management
  • For almost five years, Volkswagen experts have been researching to find new ways to apply quantum computing to everyday challenges

Quantum computing is still very much in its nascent phase with only a handful of organizations across various industries in the world making strides beyond research and into practical applications. Notably, German automaker Volkswagen has been working on applying it to the automotive industry for over five years now.

In fact, the motor vehicle manufacturer was the first automaker to demonstrate a practical application of quantum computing for route and traffic management. “Everything we learn now can give us an advantage in the future,” director of Volkswagen Group Data, Florian Neukart, said once about the potential applications of quantum computing. “Some challenges and questions in fields like material science may only be solvable through quantum computing. In other areas, we can take a problem that might require a week of classical computing power and finish it in a day or less.”

Though it may seem like a bit of an experimental flight of fancy to introduce quantum computing, it’s not something that VW is doing just because it can. The German company has real substance behind its investment into applications of quantum computing. “We’re not interested in doing research for research’s sake. We want to bring this technology into the real world,” Neukart stressed.

What is Volkswagen doing for the automotive industry?

McKinsey in a report highlighted that “quantum computers have the potential to resolve problems of this complexity and magnitude across many different industries and applications, including finance, transportation, chemicals, and cybersecurity.

That said, Volkswagen had said in a recent news release that Volkswagen Group of America has one of the most aggressive portfolios of technology developments in the automotive sector — from artificial intelligence to cloud computing and beyond. “That also includes research and development in quantum computing, a space where Volkswagen has worked alongside key innovators to bring cutting-edge innovation into real-world use,” it said.

Within the automotive sector, Volkswagen Group has led the way in launching a dedicated team for quantum computing research in 2016. For almost five years now, Volkswagen experts have been researching to find new ways to apply quantum computing to everyday challenges. About 10 people work with quantum computing at Volkswagen in the U.S and Germany. Since 2017, Volkswagen has been teaming up with Canadian quantum computing firm D-Wave, and later joined with Google’s quantum computing unit for research.

Neukart also emphasized how “many challenges in the automotive industry can benefit from the inherent power quantum computing can generate.” One major field is mobility: in 2019, the Volkswagen team worked with D-Wave to demonstrate the first-live traffic-routing system to rely on quantum computing. 

The test utilized buses in Lisbon, Portugal, to predict traffic volumes and route trips to minimize wait times for passengers and travel times for the buses, avoiding traffic jams and making the traffic flow as efficient as possible. “And the team has many more ideas and ongoing projects,” Volkswagen’s lead data scientist, David Von Dollen, clarified. The Volkswagen team has also applied quantum computing to vehicle pricing to help strike the right balance for customer demand. Further afield, they see the potential for other uses, such as developing new materials or figuring out where new electric vehicle charging stations should be located to maximize their usefulness.

It is perhaps important to note that many companies and businesses won’t be able to reap significant value from quantum computing for a decade or more, although a few will see gains in the next five years, according to McKinsey. “But the potential is so great, and the technological advances are coming so rapidly, that every business leader should have a basic understanding of how the technology works, the kinds of problems it can help solve, and how she or he should prepare to harness its potential.”