Will Quantum Computers Control Traffic?

Will Quantum Computers Control Traffic?
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A team of researchers from Toyota and the University of Tokyo used a quantum computer to control traffic signals in a simulated large city, finding that it was superior to currently-used methods at reducing traffic imbalance and maintaining smooth flow.

The team's study is published in Nature's Scientific Reports.

In futuristic cities, where satellites, cameras, and Internet-connected cars will permit widespread digitization of traffic data, there will be bountiful opportunities to streamline travel times and reduce accidents. But all of this constantly updating information poses a challenge for classical computers, which are restricted to basic units of data called bits, represented by 1 or 0. Quantum computers, on the other hand, make use of quantum bits – qubits – which can be 1, 0, or even 0 and 1, simultaneously. This makes quantum computers the ultimate multi-taskers when dealing with lots and lots of data.

Traffic signal model. (a) Grid pattern of roads. (b) The two states of traffic signals at each intersection.

In the current study, the Toyota and University of Tokyo researchers utilized a D-Wave quantum computer with 2048 qubits to control traffic signals on a 50 x 50 simulated road grid with moving cars and compared its performance to conventional algorithms run on a classical computer. They found that the quantum computer produced superior results.

Toyota is not the first car company to explore quantum computing's potential in regards to traffic. Back in 2018, Volkswagen scientists used a D-Wave to precisely predict future traffic volumes, transportation demand, and journey durations in Barcelona, Spain. A year later, they once again used a D-Wave to optimize the routing of public transit buses in Lisbon, Portugal in real-time.

As the human experience grows increasingly data-driven, super-efficient quantum computers are going to begin finding their real-world niches. Traffic control and optimization may be one of the first.

Source: Inoue, D., Okada, A., Matsumori, T. et al. Traffic signal optimization on a square lattice with quantum annealing. Sci Rep 11, 3303 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82740-0

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