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Transport, logistics in the quantum graticule

Ask any quantum computing startup (and there are too many) about the rate of corporate adoption of the emerging technology and the answer will be quick: Fortune 500 companies are all investing heavily.

While there may be some scattered traction, genuine interest and a track record are not the same as solid investments. We have seen practical traction of quantum computing in areas such as pharma, advertising/media, and finance, but in more practical contexts that drive the economy (healthcare, energy, manufacturing, and retail) , the way is less clear.

Yet there is one segment of the industry that has the most to gain from faster adoption than most: transportation and logistics. And it turns out that IT departments in those fields are getting the message, at least according to quantum startup Zapata Computing.

In a recent Zapata survey of 300 IT leaders from companies with over $250 million in revenue, 74% agreed that those who don’t adopt quantum will fall behind and 69% are in planning phase or have a plan. Only 29% have implemented these plans (in fact, the majority were in the United States (36%), Canada (32%) and China (32%), although respondents are overwhelmingly based in the States States, which skews these results somewhat).

What is most interesting is how these implementation plans are unfolding. Transportation (which includes logistics) and mobility are leading the quantum charge in terms of early adoption.

Infographic MEI

There are several reasons why this could be the case, the most obvious of which is the supply chain crisis. Organizations seek every ounce of optimization, and historical flow data that might have guided past routing, for example, might not apply at a time when every industry has been turned upside down. In short, the need for fast, optimized routes that can go beyond conventional methods has never been closer for an industry based on rapid response to change.

An interesting element of transportation results is that these early-stage quantum efforts usually do not come from transportation or logistics companies, but rather from organizations where it is only a (significant) part. Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, for example, where quantum strategies are more holistic and aligned with the core business mission, logistics professionals and operations management leaders drive the investigations.

“What we’re seeing is more about supply chain logistics, whether that’s where goods are made or how they’re delivered. We see in our conversations with our customers that quantum is being used here to augment or boost existing classical transport,” says Katherine Londergan, Zapata CMO.

In these lines of sight are complex combinatorial optimization problems where the objective is to use small quantum devices available today or to practice quantum-inspired methods as a source of randomness to design new solutions to optimizations with machine learning, says Londergan. “We sample from quantum methods to get a new possibility that is more random than classical computation could conceive and inject it into an existing method.”

Londergan says that while the survey results are promising and their own work with logistics teams is ongoing, quantum adoption for transportation and supply chain/logistics often starts as a departmental R&D project. or parallel and grows. In short, we cannot expect the transportation industry to be disrupted by quantum tomorrow. Yet these proof-of-concept projects in industry act as a catalyst to get teams thinking about their classical infrastructure and how it can accommodate quantum methods or devices when the time comes.

While quantum may be taking hold in transportation faster than some other industries, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s often just one segment of an overall business. Zapata’s survey also speaks to obstacles, especially for larger-scale quantum practice. For example, 49% of respondents said integration complexity is a major barrier. Logistics has well-developed and well-tested systems and software designed just for these needs, integrating a quantum computing or quantum-inspired approach will be an ongoing challenge, adds Londergan, but ultimately it it’s about strengthening the infrastructure for that eventuality.

The full report contains other striking industry-specific figures and can be found here.

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