High-Tech Problem Solvers

Microsoft, Ford team to use quantum-inspired technology to understand traffic congestion

Ford has teamed up with Microsoft to study traffic congestion.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Computers are everywhere. We wear them on our wrists, carry them in our pockets, and rely on them to function in a modern world. As computing evolves, automakers like Ford are using high-level technology to work to solve everyday problems.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker has partnered with Microsoft to simulate the impact thousands of vehicles traveling has on congestion. They're early in to the project, still developing the quantum computing aspects of the project, which will take the problems of today and scale them to predict the problems of tomorrow. Then, the two companies will use the information to dive deeper into possible solutions to those problems.

"Quantum computing has the potential to transform the auto industry and the way we move," said Julie Love, senior director of quantum computing business development, Microsoft. "To do that we need to have a deep understanding of the problems that companies like Ford want to solve, which is why collaborations like these are so important."

When rush hour happens and congestion picks up, it's not uncommon for drivers to use various apps to change their route using traffic apps like Waze. However, these apps often route drivers the same way, creating congestion on side streets. Ideally, new computing would work to balance those routes to allow the least amount of congestion possible on all streets.

Dr. Ken Washington, Chief Technology Officer, Ford Motor Company described the problem and possible solution in a recent post on Medium.

Simply put, it's not feasible to have traditional computers find the optimal solution from a huge number of possible route assignments in a timely manner. That's where quantum computing can help. Essentially, existing digital computers translate information into either a 1 or a 0, otherwise known as a bit. But in a quantum computer, information can be processed by a quantum bit (or a qubit) that can simultaneously exist in two different states before it gets measured. Upon measurement, however, either a 1 or a 0 appears randomly and the probability for each is governed by a set of rules called quantum mechanics.

This ultimately enables a quantum computer to process information with a faster speed. Attempts to simulate some specific features of a quantum computer on non-quantum hardware have led to quantum-inspired technology — powerful algorithms that mimic certain quantum behaviors and run on specialized conventional hardware. That enables organizations to start realizing some benefits before fully-scaled quantum hardware becomes available.

The partnership between Microsoft and Ford started in 2018 to specifically focus on reducing traffic congestion in Seattle, a city undergoing tremendous rapid growth that is confined in its footprint by waterways and mountains.

The collaboration tested numerous scenarios in their efforts to solve Seattle's traffic congestion, with as many as 5,000 vehicles. Each vehicle in the scenario had 10 different route choices. In 20 seconds, computing software weighed each of those suggestions and delivered a route that resulted in a 73 percent improvement in total congestion compared to traditional route suggestion methods. The result was an eight percent drop in the time of the commute.

Ford remains hopeful that future advances in quantum computing will further the company's mission to work to reduce congestion.

Ford trucks reigned supreme over the last decade.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

For decades, Kelley Blue Book has been studying auto sales trends and reporting on those findings. To mark the close of the decade, 2010-2020, KBB looked back at the numbers for the last 10 years and found some surprising things.

The single best sales month was December 2016.

Nico Rosberg 2016 F1 Champtionship

Photo by Getty Images

There was a lot going on in 2016, not the least exciting of which was Nico Rosberg wining the F1 Championship. Automakers sold more vehicles in 2016 than they did at any other point during the decade. The December 2016 sales capped off a record year. Here's the top five months over the decade by volume:

  • December 2016: 1,683,408
  • March 2018: 1,648,222
  • May 2015: 1,634,833
  • December 2015: 1,634,329
  • August 2019: 1,632,287

Subaru might have had the best decade of everyone.

2020 Subaru Outback

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

Sure, Ford sold a lot of trucks and Nissan saw tremendous early-decade growth in its SUV lineup, but Subaru is the real winner. In 2010, Subaru sold 263,000 vehicles in the U.S. By the end of the decade, in 2019, they sold 700,000. They probably would have sold more but they scaled back production to launch two new vehicles at the end of the decade.

Most forecasts were wrong about December 2019, but that doesn't mean it was a great month.

2020 Ram 1500

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Analysts forecasted weak sales for the last month of 2019 but the market surprised them delivering a strong result. However, December 2019 was only the 26th best-selling month of the decade according to KBB, which measured 1,506,401 units sold. See the best-selling trucks of 2019 here.

Volvo's best month was the last month of the decade.

2019 Volvo XC60

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Corporation

Volvo left the decade with the best month it has had in 10 years. The company sold 12,360 units. However, Volvo had higher sales in the months prior to the Great Recession.

Ford delivered the highest monthly sales total of all automakers in the last 10 years.

2019 Ford Focus

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While some may bemoan the Blue Oval's current state of automotive affairs, they had a really great month five and a half years ago. In May 2014, Ford sold 244,501 vehicles, roughly 15.5% of the entire industry's sales for the month. In that single month, Ford sold more vehicles than Smart did in the entire decade. See the best-selling new cars of 2019 here.

Buyers are spending more on their cars than ever before.

2020 Toyota Highlander

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

According to KBB, "At the end of 2011, the average transaction price (ATP) for a new vehicle in the U.S. was near $30,000. In February 2015, ATP for the month was above $33,000 for the first time ($33,056). It broke through $35,000 in June of 2017, and passed $37,000 later that year, in December when transaction prices commonly peak due to the high volume of luxury vehicle sales. Transaction prices were above $38,000 through the final three months of 2019. The Kelley Blue Book ATP in December 2019 was $38,767 – the highest point in the past decade."

See the best-selling new SUVs of 2019 here.

Tesla came to play.

2019 Tesla Model3

Photo courtesy of Tesla

In 2010 and 2011, Tesla wasn't really on anyone's radar and now it's a household name. KBB estimates that Tesla sold 12 vehicles in June 2012. They reached 10,000 in sales per month in March 2018 and hit peak monthly sales in December 2018 when 32,600 vehicles were sold.

High-performance cars were costliest in January 2019.

2020 Ferrari Roma

Photo courtesy of Ferrari N.V.

Everyone seems to drive a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda Civic. For the select few wealthy enough to enjoy the fruits of the Acura NSX, Ford GT, and anything with a horse logo on it, this decade was kind for options but expensive. KBB says that in January 2019, the ATP for the segment peaked for the decade at $121,739.

With the Trump Tax Cuts came more fleet sales.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

According to KBB, "Six of the Top 10 best months for fleet sales in the past decade occurred after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. In May 2019, an estimated 425,000 vehicles were sold to fleet buyers, a record 27 percent of total U.S. sales. Fleet, it's worth noting, generally accounts for 20% of sales in a given month."

There was never a time in the last 10 years that the Ford F-Series was not the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

2020 Ford Super Duty

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ten straight years of month-to-month dominance. Muhammed Ali wasn't even that good. Ford has sold 7,578,608 F-Series pickups in the last decade - one every 41 seconds. The best month for the F-Series was December 2017 where, in a single month, the company sold 89,385 F-Series trucks.

AutomotiveMap's writers chose their favorite vehicles to use to make a large Costco run.

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

It's always the paper towels. They take up more room than you think and then you're left trying to figure out where to put the rotisserie chicken.

When you're ready to upgrade your vehicle, consider these AuotmotiveMap picks, which are perfect for shopping trips to Costco, Sam's Club, and the like. Some have the most amount of cargo space you can get in their segment while others have good cargo area designs that are practical solutions for life's activities.

​2020 Ford Escape

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Sue Mead: The 2020 Ford Escape has been completely redesigned for the new model year. The sportier, more powerful, and more premium Escape comes in front- and all-wheel drive variants. It's also available as a hybrid that has up to 400 miles of range. The value-priced Escape has standard Ford Co-Pilot360 safety and driver assistance technology and a large rear cargo space.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Harvey Briggs: Start with 165 cubic feet of passenger volume, the convenience of stow-and-go seating, side doors and a tailgate that open wide and there's no better vehicle for hauling a 65" flatscreen, five pounds of crab legs, and four all-season radials than this. Get a black 2020 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with the S appearance package for a look that's bad to the bone.

​2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Jesus Garcia: When you absolutely, positively need to buy and carry everything you buy at Costco, accept no substitute than the 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van with its efficient 3.0-liter V6 turbo diesel engine and available 4x4. Like any good passenger van, it has gobs of storage space.

2020 Honda Ridgeline

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Perry Stern, AutoNXT: The unique cargo carrying ability of Honda's pickup truck – a lockable trunk below a proper cargo bed – make the Ridgeline an excellent option for the run to Costco.

2020 Chrysler Pacifica

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.

Nicole Wakelin: Like is hybrid counterpart, the 2020 Chrysler Pacifica offers lots of cargo room without having to fold down the seats so you can head straight to pick up the kids at school without a stop at home.

2020 Honda CR-V

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Eileen Falkenberg-Hull: The Honda CR-V ticks a lot of boxes for the average family and many of them are likely big box retailer shoppers. The compact SUV seats up to five and has cavernous cargo space which means you can easily fit a stroller alongside your load of toilet paper, roasted chicken, wine, and fruit snacks.

2020 Ford Expedition Max

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Chad Kirchner: The 2020 Ford Expedition Max is the way to go because the extra 12-inches of cargo space is needed for the bulk buys when you're toting along your whole family for an excursion.