Quantum Computing Innovation
Honeywell International is an American Fortune 100 tech giant and the developer of the quantum computer in use by BMW. However, quantum computing is only one of the many industries in which Honeywell works. The latter’s products are primarily concentrated on engineering industries, such as aerospace, material science, healthcare and pharmaceutical.
The specific Honeywell machines in use by BMW are the Honeywell HØ and H1 quantum computers. These machines are examples of ion-trap quantum computers and are designed for companies and organisations such as BMW to help in their number crunching and to ease their workflow. Both machines are ion-trap quantum computers where the HØ has 6 qubits and the H1 has 10 qubits.
Ion-trap quantum computers utilise ions as the qubit particle, locking them into an electric field in a so-called ‘ion-trap’ that is placed in a cooling and shielding chamber. This is to eliminate external interference (one example of which is of course EMI). The values of the qubits are read using lasers, which—when pointed towards the qubits—put those qubits in a state of excitation, in which their value and charge do not change, but instead, a photon is emitted and later read by the machine itself.
A close-up of the linear ion-trap used in Honeywell’s HØ and H1 quantum computing systems
Image credit: Honeywell
Utilising a Ten-qubit Quantum Computer
The reason behind using Honeywell’s quantum technology is simple. As a large conglomerate, BMW has a lot of plants around the world, each demanding supplies and components while also needing to adhere to a strict production schedule and manufacturing quota. The company’s choice of suppliers vary in both price and lead time and can cause an inefficiency problem even if only a small delay is made. To make all of these challenges easier to manage, BMW’s planned quantum computer will optimise the company’s supply chain choices, ensure that it keeps to its schedules, and ultimately save on money and time.
H1 is a clear example of a system that can achieve the above assets. And even though the project so far reflects a small, initial stage of technological progress (as opposed to a full utilisation of the actual power of quantum computers), it is nevertheless a move towards our embracing the use of quantum technology and its benefits.
On top of the above, it is also important to note that current quantum computers do not possess the power to achieve exponential speed increases when more qubits are added to their architectures. With this in mind, it’s clear that the real-world use of even a ten-qubit computer is paramount to the development of both the relevant system hardware and software—not only for BMW’s upcoming machinery, but, even more importantly, for the future of quantum computing scalability itself.
In-progress production of a vehicle in the BMW Leipzig, Germany plant
Image credit: BMW Group
BMW is certainly excited about the use of new technologies that can help improve its manufacturing processes. “The BMW Group is always exploring new technologies to further enhance our operations,” said the head of IT at BMW, Julius Marcea. He added: “We are excited to investigate the transformative potential of quantum computing [in] the automotive industry and are committed to extending the limits of engineering performance”.
In order to develop the software for its planned quantum computing system, BMW is working closely with Entropica Labs, a startup from Singapore that is dedicated to developing quantum computing software. Entopica’s CTO and co-founder Ewan Munro has highlighted the importance of such work: “The results of this simple benchmark project are very informative, and will be helpful to Entropica as we continue to investigate real-world use cases for quantum optimisation”.
What This Project Means for Future Quantum Computers
For Honeywell, its next step is upscaling its technology to accommodate more qubits: its next model is aimed at using anywhere between 12 to 20 qubits (and in fact, the company’s current platform does already have the potential to support up to 40 potential qubits per quantum computer).
As for BMW and Entropica, their next step is furthering the software and implementation of quantum computing in real-world scenarios. This will open up the possibility of achieving more serious uses in the following years, when the technology reaches the point of utilising hundreds—or even thousands—of qubits per device.