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Denso lends quantum computing expertise

3 min read

TOKYO — Japanese auto supplier Denso Corp. is joining the fight against COVID-19 by teaching medical researchers how to harness the powers of quantum computing.

The auto industry knows the Toyota Group parts maker for its air conditioners, inverters, sensors, electric electronic control units and myriad other components. But Denso is also a leader in the field of quantum computing — a science being developed to crack a host of big data problems in the automotive field.

Because it can handle thousands of variables much more quickly than conventional computers, quantum computing is ideally suited to optimizing problems with a multitude of outcomes. Traditional computers code information as either a zero or a one in bits. But quantum computing increases the amount of data that can be processed by using a quantum bit, or qubit. A qubit can be coded as a zero, a one, or a zero and a one at the same time.

Leading Denso’s efforts is one of the world’s quantum computing pioneers, Tadashi Kadowaki, who was one of the inventors of a method known as quantum annealing in 1998.

Kadowaki has been helping Denso use quantum computing to tackle problems including the development of complex materials, such as new plastics, metals and chemicals; the optimization of factory production logistics; and the improvement of urban traffic management.

But now, Kadowaki and Denso are turning their attention to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of a new program, Kadowaki’s seven-member team will teach medical researchers and epidemiologists how to use the world’s only commercially available quantum computer to battle the deadly virus. Since 2017, Denso and some other companies worldwide have been using that computer, which is physically located in Canada and operated by D-Wave Systems Inc.

D-Wave is now allowing unrestricted free cloud access to its quantum computer to anyone working on COVID-19 response in 35 countries across North America, Europe and Asia.

Denso’s team will train those researchers on how to work the computer and develop the algorithms needed to find solutions to the disease and its spread.

“We want to show that quantum computing can be useful for society in general,” Kadowaki told Automotive News.

Other nonautomotive applications include mapping escape routes from tsunamis so that people can evacuate without creating deadly traffic jams.

Denso began its quantum computing program in 2015 and brought in Kadowaki and his expertise in 2018. But Japan’s biggest parts maker is not the only automotive player in the game. Volkswagen, Ford, Daimler and Bosch, among others, also have quantum computing projects.

VW has tested quantum computing to simulate different chemical structures for electric vehicle batteries, and it used it to streamline traffic flow in Lisbon, Portugal.

Denso’s efforts haven’t delivered any products for sale yet. But the supplier sees early potential in areas of production logistics and new mobility, especially in car navigation, Kadowaki said.

“Within five years, we want to provide something to keep bringing investment into this field,” Kadowaki said. “We want to provide real applications as soon as possible.”

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