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Interview with Martin Hofmann and Hartmut Neven
In the following interview, Martin Hofmann, the Head of Group IT, and Hartmut Neven, the Development Director of the Google Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, discuss their companies’ goals in the partnership and the way that their collaboration can facilitate future mobility solutions.
What do Volkswagen and Google plan to achieve in their partnership?
Hofmann: Quantum computers have tremendous potential and can be used for a wide range of tasks and challenging jobs. This can include new mobility solutions for our customers or totally different applications within our company. Until recently, it was impossible to really think in these terms. We plan to seize this opportunity and be one of the first companies to use quantum computers for practical business activities. Together with Google, we are moving application-oriented research forward.
Neven: Google already has a high-performance quantum computer and the software it takes to run it. We already know that computers are a whiz at performing well-defined calculation tasks. But these benchmark jobs come from abstract mathematical areas. Together with Volkswagen, we want to identify which application-focused tasks can be performed better by a quantum computer than by a conventional one.
How does a quantum computer work?
Neven: Quantum computers are based on the principles of quantum mechanics and are designed differently from the computers that most of us use every day. In a conventional computer, the memory consists of bits, the smallest form of an information unit in computer science. Every bit is either a zero or one. Quantum computing is based on a quantum bit, or qubit. A qubit can be a zero, one or both all at the same time. Computing power jumps exponentially as a result because a quantum computer can simultaneously perform every calculating step in all states.
Hofmann: The difference in speed is incredible. A quantum computer can complete calculating tasks in just a few seconds that would take the world’s fastest conventional supercomputer more than a year to perform. This does not mean that quantum computers are superior per se to conventional computers. But they can perform many highly complicated tasks much faster than conventional supercomputers or make it possible to perform such jobs in the first place.
Where do you want to use them?
Hofmann: One key focal point of our partnership will be optimizing traffic with the help of quantum computing. In this work, we will draw on the findings of our first research project with 10,000 taxis in China’s capital, Beijing. Our IT experts now want to expand their special knowledge and develop experimental algorithms that will take a range of factors into consideration, including ways to shorten travel time. We are talking about solutions for individual drivers and for urban traffic planners.
Can you provide some specific examples?
Hofmann: One potential use would be options that would show a driver the location of an available e-charging station or parking place. Another potential use would involve integrating urban traffic management systems, public transportation or weather conditions into route planning. By taking this approach, cities could manage traffic associated with major events or construction sites more efficiently and prevent congestion. In another project, we will simulate material structures, especially for high-performance e-vehicle batteries.
Neven: It is a really exciting project. Here’s why: When you work with an architect today and plan a house, he or she can quickly run through a number of options on the computer and show them to you on a monitor. But if you want to develop batteries for e-vehicles, you have no simulation options available to you. We intend to change this. If we succeed, the development process will take off because improvement ideas can be simulated at once on a computer.
How will you measure the success of your collaboration?
Neven: We want to find as many application areas as possible where we can use quantum computing to come up with better solutions than conventional methods. We are experimenting here. I really think quantum computing has tremendous potential.
Hofmann: We have many years of experience in the writing of automotive tasks and requirements into algorithms. A year ago, we became the first automaker to explore the opportunities created by quantum computing. We are expanding this expertise through our partnership with Google. We are really looking forward to working with them.