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UK Testing Whether Quantum Can Be The Engine For More Efficient, Safer Rail Service

red and yellow train in train station

Insider Brief

  • UK’s Department for Transportation are assessing how quantum technology can boost transportation safety and efficiency.
  • Q-CTRL and  Oxford Quantum Circuits are developing a quantum algorithm specifically designed to optimize train timetables more efficiently, The Telegraph reports.
  • MoniRail is also testing the use of quantum sensors.

In a quest to enhance the punctuality and efficiency of Britain’s train services, the Department for Transport has initiated trials using a quantum computer. The department is also looking into the use of quantum sensors to improve safety.

The optimization initiative, as reported by The Telegraph, aims to revolutionize rail schedules across the country. Australian firm Q-CTRL, in collaboration with Oxford Quantum Circuits, is leading the effort, developing a quantum algorithm specifically designed to optimize train timetables more efficiently.

Conventional supercomputers, when faced with the challenge of simulating the billions of potential arrangements for train schedules within a large network, encounter significant limitations. Quantum computing, however, with its promise of superior performance capabilities, could provide the necessary computational power to simulate various scenarios effectively. Q-CTRL was recently granted a portion of a £15 million government computing fund dedicated to the development of “quantum-optimised train schedules.” the paper reports.

Because quantum computers can leverage the unique properties of quantum physics to theoretically process an enormous array of possibilities, the devices have the potential to surpass current classical computers in tasks ranging from codebreaking to the development of new chemical compounds.

‘Training’ Quantum

Michael Biercuk, CEO of Q-CTRL, told the Telegraph that quantum computers’ ability to simultaneously simulate multiple modifications to a train timetable could help determine the most efficient outcome. He described optimizing logistics as a “sleeper application but one of the highest value and most impactful opportunities that we’ve identified.”

In the article, Biercuk pointed out that the mathematical problems involved in optimizing ttransportatione become exceedingly difficult at scale. ”

You think about a city-wide transit network, you’re talking about millions of passengers and thousands of vehicles… the big problems are insurmountable by conventional approaches,” he told the Telegraph.

According to the story, Q-CTRL has conducted similar tests for transport authorities in New South Wales and for logistics planning with the Australian army, demonstrating the practical applications of quantum computing in complex logistical operations.

These quantum computers, while still largely experimental, have shown promise in outperforming traditional computers in certain tests, according to Biercuk. The goal of the scheduling software is to ultimately reduce delays and waiting times for passengers and to create schedules that are less prone to disruption from incidents like signal failures, although this work is still in its preliminary stages.

In a related development, MoniRail is set to deploy quantum navigation sensors on the London Underground to detect flaws in tracks, according to the newspaper. These sensors, developed by Imperial College London and the University of Sussex, are being tested as a potential alternative to GPS, which is ineffective in tunnels. This technology is slated for testing on the Hammersmith & City, District, and Circle lines in central London later this month.

The push towards quantum computing in public transport systems also aligns with global advancements in the field. Last year, Google announced that its quantum computer had performed calculations in seconds that would take the best supercomputers 47 years, marking a significant milestone in the quantum computing realm.

If you found this article to be informative, you can explore more current quantum news here, exclusives, interviews, and podcasts.

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Matt Swayne

With a several-decades long background in journalism and communications, Matt Swayne has worked as a science communicator for an R1 university for more than 12 years, specializing in translating high tech and deep tech for the general audience. He has served as a writer, editor and analyst at The Quantum Insider since its inception. In addition to his service as a science communicator, Matt also develops courses to improve the media and communications skills of scientists and has taught courses. [email protected]

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