What is DENSO trying to do with quantum computers?

What will “Optimize the moment” bring about?

Oct. 16, 2019 Innovation Events

On June 11, 2019, the meetup event “DENSO Tech Links Tokyo #3” was held under the sponsorship of DENSO Corporation. This event is intended to introduce to people what DENSO is doing now. This time, DENSO Tech Links Tokyo #3 picked the theme “Will quantum computers change the future?”, and the leading expert in quantum computers and a DENSO employee talked about their ground-breaking activities. Following Associate Professor Masayuki Ozeki at the Graduate School of Tohoku University, Mr. Masayoshi Terabe, a member of DENSO Advanced Research & Innovation Center, Inc., explained DENSO’s internal project using quantum computers.

DENSO’s goal with quantum computers

Mr. Masayoshi Terabe: My name is Masayoshi Terabe from DENSO. I work for DENSO Advanced Research & Innovation Center, and four years ago, I began a project for creating businesses using quantum computers. Today, I’d like to explain what we are trying to do.

Before my lecture, I would like to introduce myself.

Everyone, what do you think this number “63” is? This is the number of countries I have visited.

I have been a backpacker since I was young. I only carried a backpack and my air ticket, found and checked into a hotel each day, and then decided where to go the next day. I have shared rooms with foreigners at cheap hostels that charged only 100 to 200 yen, and traveled around with people I’ve met. I have made many such journeys and consequently visited 63 countries.

I love the words “world” and “challenge.” And I began studying quantum computers as a challenge to the world.

Next, let me introduce DENSO. Everyone, do you know DENSO? I would be shocked if none of you here knew my company.

(The audience laugh.)

“Running,” “turning,” “stopping,” “avoiding collision,” “connecting,” “communicating,” and “comfort” – DENSO’s products and systems are an integral part of all functions of vehicles. DENSO supports vehicle systems around the globe.

Did you know that the auto industry is said to be undergoing “once-in-a-century reforms”? People in the auto industry know it well, but people in other industries may not.

What reforms are expected to occur? Automated driving, electric vehicles, connected cars, and car sharing will emerge. DENSO is working hard to keep up with such great changes. Today, I would like to tell you about quantum computers, which are one of our ongoing projects.

If all people rush to use the shortest route, traffic congestion will occur.

Before I explain our quantum computer project, let me explain the ideal picture I am striving to realize. Do you all drive a car?

(The audience raise their hands.)

This is the situation in Tokyo (few people raise their hands) as I expected. In Aichi Prefecture, where the head office of DENSO is located, everyone raises their hands. Please buy cars.

(The audience laugh.)

Everyone who drives a car probably thinks, “I want to be the first to reach my destination.” If the cars in the next lane are running smoothly but your lane is congested, you feel unlucky. So you change lanes hastily to reach the destination more quickly, don’t you? But the truth is that nobody can arrive early if everyone wants to reach the same place before others.

First, take a look at the figure on the left. Everyone wants to reach this stadium. They take the shortest route and so the route becomes congested. What happens next? They consider the traffic congestion and head for the next shortest route, which becomes congested too. Traffic congestion occurs in succession and no one feels happy.

Now, let us change our way of thinking a little. If everyone wants to reach their destination early and uses different routes in the town from the outset, thinking, “I’ll take the left route” or I’ll take the right route,” an equal number of cars will take the left route and the right route, and traffic congestion will not occur. And the number of cars that can reach their destination will be at least twice as many.

As this example shows, if society is optimized from a wider perspective, the situation may become much better. But the computations required to do this are very hard, and conventional computers cannot cope.

However, computers that can probably handle the calculations have been developed, called quantum computers.

We are striving to create new values by linking quantum computers with the auto industry which is ushering in once-in-a-century reforms.

When will quantum computers be available?

A quantum computer uses mysterious objects called qubits, which superpose 0 and 1, and these qubits enable us to find optimum solutions extremely quickly.

What will quantum computers bring about? Quantum computers are expected to enter practical use in society in another five years or so.

This is a roadmap showing the number of bits. The D-Wave machine can output 2,000 bits at present and is estimated to be capable of outputting 5,000 bits next year. Quantum computers are evolving on such a scale, and so may become available in another five years.

By the way, have you ever seen an actual quantum computer?

The man on the far left is me. The quantum computer is huge, standing 3 meters tall. The reason is because the chip, which is the heart of the quantum computer, is made of a material called a superconductor. The chip is only palm-sized, but the superconductor needs to be cooled down to about -273°C to operate. So, it is like a large refrigerator.

Since I work in the auto industry, my first thought was: “How can it ever be placed in a car?” It is very difficult to downsize the refrigerator, so although it may be put in cars someday in the future, that will not happen soon. Then I thought, “What about an application that does not need to be installed in cars?” I thought whether such an application could be used in the IoT and Connected industries.

In the auto industry, there are two types of connected technology. One is connected cars, or car IoT, and the other is factory IoT. More and more factories are rapidly becoming linked to the Internet.

In the field of connected technology, “optimization” is the issue.

Evolution of connected products

This is the roadmap created by Prof. Michael Porter, an expert in business management. In the first step, connected products introduce many sensors to visualize data. After visualizing data, the next step is “control,” in which people try to do something with the data. Once control is achieved, “optimization” comes next, in which people work to improve control. And connected products will finally evolve into autonomy.

As you probably know, cars use many sensors. Thus, cars are between Step 2 and Step 3, where car manufacturers are considering what they can do with sensors. Factories, on the other hand, are working hard to introduce many sensors and are accumulating data successfully, so they are between Step 1 and Step 2.

In this context, demand for “optimization” is expected to increase rapidly in the future. The keywords “future” and “optimization” remind me of quantum computers, which I think will prove to be of great value if they are used in such fields.

Why do we use quantum computers?

You might wonder whether optimization is worth doing with quantum computers.

This is an example of a traffic congestion solution. The story is not difficult, so please follow it. For example, assume a situation in which three candidate routes to the destination are picked per car and there are two cars, each of which has three routes.

If a car has three routes and there are two cars, a total of nine combinations (3 x 3) are available, and some combinations are congested. For this reason, a simplified traffic congestion solution model computes the nine combinations, judges a combination that is congested and should not be selected, and finds the best route.

However, a car has three routes, and ten cars have 60,000 combinations of routes, 20 cars have 3.5 billion combinations, and 30 cars have as many as 200 trillion combinations. Conventional computers would take an eternity to compute them.

Basically, such computations of traffic congestion solutions are carried out by simulations. I think that traffic congestion in towns could be cleared in a minute by controlling cars traveling there by using quantum computers to perform computations.

Optimize the moment, and create new value.

This is just an example of solving traffic congestion. However, surely we can do interesting things by bringing things that can be achieved only by simulation into the real world.

We have begun the project “Optimize the Moment,” which is intended to create new value by optimizing each moment.

Let me show you a video.

(The video begins.)

At present, we are conducting a demonstration experiment in Thailand, where traffic congestion is a major problem, to see if the congestion can be solved.

In Bangkok and other cities, we videoed tuk-tuks, but the audience cannot see them easily because they are small (laugh). 

(The audience laugh.)

Conventional navigation systems show all drivers the same route to the destination, and the road becomes congested. However, the volume of computations is huge if the optimum route is computed. In the “Optimize the Moment” project, we are endeavoring to compute optimum routes with the aid of quantum computers.

This approach offers each car a different route and thereby eliminates traffic congestion in town. I think such elimination will help save many lives by, for example, allocating a route preferentially to ambulances, further improve the efficiency of logistics by optimizing distribution routes, and create diverse value.

This attempt is also being carried out in factories. Please take a look at YouTube.

We are conducting experiments on eliminating traffic congestion in Thailand and working on evolving factories in real time. These attempts are unique to DENSO, which has many demonstration fields.

Optimization will change society.

Through these activities, I have noticed one thing recently. I think optimization will probably reform various things on a larger social level beyond the fields of factories and cars.

For example, even in a factory, production optimization focuses only on production. However, it would be possible to consider and optimize the health of the personnel working there. By optimizing various elements, such as training, the whole community will gradually become linked.

I think something interesting will be obtained through such society-level optimization because of the existence of quantum computers.

Quantum computers are still not widely known and accepted. If people are asked what they want to do with a quantum computer, most of them struggle to think of an answer. However, we must try to deepen people’s understanding of quantum computers to create a future where quantum computers will be used as an integral part of our daily lives.

This book “Quantum computers will change the future,” which Prof. Ozeki and I co-wrote, contains some difficult topics but is easy to read for those who are interested in, but not good at, science and technology. We imagine how society will change with quantum computers, with the cooperation of companies you already know.

I hope my talk today has stimulated your interest in quantum computers. Please join us from today; let us change the future together.

Thank you.