Quant(um)ifying air mobility solutions


Airbus and BMW have launched a joint quantum computing competition asking the community to solve their most pressing mobility challenges. 

Both firms ran similar competitions before in 2019 and 2021 and received a large and meaningful response from a global quantum community with hundreds of participants and a multitude of highly valuable quantum solutions. Now they have come together for the first time. 

Since the first competitions, Airbus said outstanding progress in quantum computing technology has been achieved, both in quantum computing hardware and software. This development is ongoing at an unprecedented pace, driven by the QC community enthusiasm underlined with investment from governments and venture capitalists.

Isabell Gradert VP Central Research and Technology at Airbus told us: “Both companies have similar basic industrial drivers (like decarbonisation, safety, connectivity), which enabled us to define common and high-impact problem statements together. 

“Quantum Computing from a technology perspective is in the early stages. We need to connect with the best of the best in research and understanding to mature the technology at our point of need. That is why we provide impactful real-life use cases from mobility and support the work with our expertise – innovation grows best in collaborative approaches,” said Gradert.

The competition is focusing on a number of key areas, defined as cases. 

First is the Smart Coating case: Effective mitigation of surface degradation is essential in prolonging the lifespan of Airbus and BMW Group products, improving operational efficiency, minimising downtime, optimising maintenance plans, and ultimately reducing costs, explained Gradert. 

Secondly, the quantum-powered logistics case: Transport and logistics between manufacturing sites significantly contributes to the carbon-dioxide emissions and drives industrial efficiency and cost. In particular, the complexity of mobility products like vehicles and aircraft leads to highly complex supply chains. The objective of this problem is to evaluate for a mobility logistics challenge and to propose quantum solutions for such an optimisation problem, said Gradert.

Thirdly, the quantum-enhanced autonomy case: Future, automated mobility will rely heavily on reliable and safe AI vision systems, being an essential brick for automated operation of vehicles and aircraft. This problem statement focuses on the generation of images that encapsulate critical scenarios using quantum generative modelling techniques.

Next is the quantum-predictive modelling case: The ability to accurately predict aerodynamic flows and the propagation of sound waves are key capabilities in the mobility industry, with high relevance both for the automotive and aviation sector. This problem statement focuses on finding most suitable quantum-based approaches to solve the relevant aerodynamic and acoustic equations.

Lastly, the golden app case: Typical approaches nudge quantum technology to the most driving challenges, which, however, often are not quantum native, said Gradert. “Airbus and BMW Group are both leading companies in the automotive and aerospace sector, respectively, and committed to embracing quantum technology as early adopters as part of their innovation strategies. While quantum computing appears to have gained a foothold in various areas, we ponder whether the ‘golden app’ for mobility remains unveiled.” In this challenge, the firms invite candidates to propose novel solutions for both hardware and software where they see a large potential but where the relevance for the mobility sector still needs to be proven.

“Quantum computing is at its nascent stage: Leveraging its unique properties for industrial applications will require lots of work and effort and a long-term vision,” said Gradert. “The timeline remains an open question as core challenges related to the full quantum computing stack including hardware, middleware, and software need to be solved. Airbus and BMW Group draw strong ties to the QC community to bring in the most impactful application for mobility and to prepare for an early adoption.”

A jury composed of quantum experts will team up with experts from Airbus, BMW Group and AWS to evaluate submitted proposals and award one winning-team with a €30,000 prize in each of the five challenges, by the end of 2024.

Dr. Peter Lehnert VP Research Technologies at BMW Group said: “The BMW Group is clearly aiming at positioning itself at the crossroads of quantum technology, the global ecosystem, and cutting-edge solutions. By doing so, we strongly believe in major advances when it comes to sustainable materials for batteries and fuel cells, to generate unique and efficient designs, or to enhance the overall user experience in the BMW Group Products.”