It’s still early days but industries are already identifying the best ways to leverage the extraordinary power expected to come from quantum computers. When fully scaled, large scale quantum computers could accelerate the solution of tough optimisation, machine learning, and sampling tasks across industries.

For the aviation industry, organisations are looking to apply quantum machines to speed up the design of aircrafts, debug millions of lines of software code and resolve complex aerospace computational problems. Many of the industry’s big names, including, Airbus Group, NASA and Lookheed Martin are investing huge sums and partnering with the some of the leading quantum developers to find out how the technology could work for them. For Lockheed Martin, who were one of the first to purchase a DWave computer back in 2011, this could kick-start new aviation software applications designed to find the most cost effective aircraft routes from millions of options.

Why Quantum?

Quantum computing uses atoms rather than transistors to process calculations. Transistors, in classical computers, store information or “bits” in two states – 0s and 1s – whereas Quantum computers, on the other hand, tap into the bizarre world of quantum mechanics with “qubits”, which can be 0s or 1s or any number in between at the same time. This means a computer using these bits can store a huge amount more information using less energy than a classical computer.

A D-Wave 1000 Qubit Quantum Processor. Credit: D-Wave Systems Inc

Airbus profile

One of the aviation industry’s biggest names, Airbus, has also shown an interest in quantum computing technology, mainly in using the concept to speed up aircraft research. In 2015, Airbus Defense and Space established a quantum computing unit at its Newport, U.K. plant. Furthermore, Airbus has also made an investment in quantum software company QC Ware and along with NASA is partnering with them to realise the full potential of the technology.

Reflecting on their approach to new disruptive technologies: “We position ourselves as final users of Quantum Technologies. However we think it’s important to cooperate with researchers, developers and suppliers from the beginning. This will both prepare us for an early adoption of their results and provide them with feedback to maintain focus and avoid less promising directions”, states Paolo Bianco, Airbus Group’s manager for global research co-operation.

Applications for Quantum Computing

One particular application the company is exploring is the use of quantum computing for its digital modelling and simulation. While it currently takes engineers more than 7 years to model the process of air flowing over a wing, airbus claim that a quantum computer could take a matter of weeks to model every single atom of air flowing over a wing at all angles and speeds.

Being able to see airflows at this level of detail would allow the company to squeeze every last fraction of efficiency out of a design, potentially cutting fuel consumption, reducing drag and improving lift. Bianco claims that the ability to simulate new ideas at the atomic level could also speed up development of other aircraft, including helicopters, structures and even materials.

Airbus also sees quantum applications in cryptography for its defence and security business, as well in communications for its space business. For example, quantum computers would allow for the construction of even more accurate atomic clocks which can control the timing of data transmissions, allowing more information to be communicated. Mr Bianco said that communications could be approaching natural “chokepoints” as switching between pieces of data cannot be controlled accurately enough.

The A380 from Airbus – the world’s biggest passenger jet


Airbus Quantum Update

Thierry Botter, Quantum expert and Optronics Research leader  at Airbus Group, spoke in September 2017 and gave an update on their quantum strategy.  “We strive to find technologies that give us an edge. And although we’re not trying to be the next makers of quantum computing, we want to partner with the best. We invested in QCWare, for hardware agnostics and solutions. For us, maintenance is a big issue, as well large systems and how to predict the faults.”

For us it’s too early to talk about strategy”, argues Botter. “But we are keen to continue finding the most useful areas where we’re going to see a clear benefit coming from quantum computer. Once we’ve assessed and seen the clear use cases then the metric of that will impact into that decision. We can then ask: Do we bring people in house? Do we develop a whole department? Or do we still operate via an external company?”

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