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Google, Volkswagen spin up quantum computing partnership

Pair to work on traffic optimisation and better batteries

By Richard Chirgwin

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Google's quantum computer isn't much more than a science project at this stage, but Volkswagen is hitching a ride anyway.

At the Web Summit conference in Europe yesterday, VW announced it inked a deal with the Chocolate Factory, in which they will work together on quantum applications in traffic management, and battery development.

Since it first started fooling around with a D-Wave box in 2015, Google has become a quantum computing enthusiast. Earlier this year, it announced tests of an in-house project called a "variational quantum eigensolver", and in October published a compiler for quantum problems.

The two companies are far from strange bedfellows, as building quantum computers involves knotty engineering. Volkswagen already funds a broad range of science projects through a research foundation, while Google's parent company has fingers in all manner of science-infused pies.

For VW, it looks like a much longer-term bet, because the car-maker's statement cites problems that quantum computers are not yet ready for real-world use, and probably won't be for some time. Its favoured development areas are "traffic optimisation, to explore structures for new materials, especially high-performance batteries for electric vehicles, and to work on artificial intelligence with new machine learning processes".

VW IT specialists in San Francisco and Munich will "develop algorithms, simulations and optimisations together with the Google experts", the statement says.

VW's interest in quantum computing goes back at least to March, when the company showed off work on traffic optimisation in a collaboration with D-Wave.

That's the kind of problem the D-Wave machine is best suited to: it's a specialist, rather than general-purpose, quantum computer whose solutions present as the lowest possible energy state of its qubits. Google's aim is more ambitious, as demonstrated by its compiler work. ®

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