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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Orbell

Is quantum computing making waves in logistics?

We stand on the cusp of a transformative era in technology, and at its forefront is quantum computing—a revolution poised to reshape our world. Quantum computers leverage the principles of quantum physics to perform calculations that were once deemed impossible at a conventional level. The implications of this cutting-edge technology are vast, spanning from code-breaking to revolutionising pharmaceutical drug development. However, until the impending 'Q-day' when quantum computers breach the code safeguarding national security systems, what are the immediate commercial applications for quantum computing and when will they disrupt traditional industry norms?

As reported by the Financial Times, "the first port of call" is logistics. In the bustling port of Los Angeles, a quantum computer is being employed to optimise the logistical complexities of operations. Leading the charge is "D-Waves," a pioneering quantum computing company that has successfully applied quantum computing in a commercial setting. Their primary objectives for the port were to reduce truck wait times for servicing and minimise the total distance travelled by a crane.

The application involved optimising crane movements to select the most efficient order for loading containers, based on various parameters like container location, distance, and the port's priority in retrieving it. This innovative approach led to a substantial reduction in average trucker wait times, from two to three hours down to under an hour, as claimed by Ed Heinbockel, the consultant on this project.

However, a report from FT journalist John Thornhill, based on data from Pier 300 where D-Waves' quantum computer was in use, contradicted these claims, revealing no tangible improvement in waiting times since the introduction of quantum technology. Criticisms of D-Waves' quantum solutions have been voiced, particularly regarding the choice of quantum computing models—annealing versus the more conventional gate model.

In the quantum computing industry, two primary models prevail: annealing and gate models. D-Waves differentiated itself by adopting the annealing model, showcasing its scalability. Qubits, the fundamental units of information in quantum computing, play a crucial role. IBM's gate model, the largest gate model quantum computer, has 433 qubits, while D-Waves' annealing model boasts a significant 5000 qubits. Although D-Waves' annealing model may not possess the capability to crack RSA or model quantum chemistry, it has the ability to solve optimisation problems. Nevertheless, scepticism remains within the research community regarding the definitive superiority of annealing over classical computing.

Despite these debates, quantum computing is making its presence felt in the logistics sector. Collaborations between teams at IBM Research and ExxonMobil Corporate Strategy Research have yielded a quantum-based model for maritime inventory routing. This model enables a thorough analysis of vehicle and inventory routing strategies, paving the way for practical solutions in complex operations. For companies like ExxonMobil, grappling with the intricacies of shipping liquefied natural gas, these quantum solutions are invaluable.

As quantum computing continues to evolve, its potential applications across various sectors, including logistics, are becoming increasingly evident. The journey to fully realising this potential is marked by challenges and debates, but the promise of a quantum-powered future is undeniably exciting. With further research and advancements, we may be on the brink of witnessing a technological transformation that will redefine the way we approach complex problems and reshape entire industries.


Financial Times Tech Tonic: The quantum revolution.

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