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.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Sony's team is testing the Vision-S on the streets of Austria.

Photo courtesy of Sony

One year ago Sony surprised the crowds at CES with the Vision -S, a concept vehicle meant to further the discussion on safety, security, and entertainment. The vehicle has moved from concept to prototype, taking to the roads of Europe for testing.

The car has been driving the roads of Austria since December 2020, according to the company, for technical evaluation. Evaluation of what? We're so glad you asked.

If the car is technologically similar to what has presented at CES last year, on-board is Sony's imaging and sensing technologies as well as software regulated using Sony's AI, telecommunication, and cloud technologies.

Sony Vision-S The Sonny Vision S is a working vehicle prototype now. Photo courtesy of Sony

The car, which was built in cooperations with Magna Steyr, features 33 sensors, including CMOS image sensors and time of flight (ToF) sensors within the vehicle. These sensors are designed to detect and recognize people and objects inside and outside the vehicle, and provide "highly advanced driving support."

Each of the two rows of seating in the vehicle features Sony's 360 Reality Audio system. Bose has similar technology built into the Nissan Kicks.

The crossover-lie car's front seats have a panoramic screen in front of them that has the ability to display rich content.

Does this mean that Sony will begin to make cars? The quick answer is no. Sony does not appear itching to get into the car business though the products that result from this testing will likely be available to automakers offering additional competition for components in a fast-paced marketplace where the technology is evolving quickly.

The real winner here could be consumers who will benefit from the stiff completion between suppliers and be on the receiving end of better technology because of it.

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Volvo has teamed up with the City of Gothenburg to create an emissions-free zone.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Volkswagen recently announced that it's turning a Greek island green. Volvo is taking their efforts a little closer to home. Volvo Cars has teamed up with the City of Gothenburg, in Sweden, to create new urban zones that will be used as testbeds for future sustainable technologies. Volvo's headquarters is located just west of the town center.

Gothenburg Green City Zone aims to create an emissions-free zone within Sweden's largest port city, taking a holistic approach that will combine the efforts of many technological and government entities working together. To achieve this, the partnership is looking toward climate-neutral transportation modes and a connected infrastructure. As part of the testbed, Volvo plans to run robotaxis operated by its fully-owned mobility provider M, within the zone.

2-Volvo XC40 Recharge The all-electric Volvo XC40 Recharge recently went on sale in the U.S.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

"Essentially, we initiate a project that intends to limit the number of cars in the city – which is fully in line with our company's purpose," said Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive of Volvo Cars. "This is already proven by our investment in the shared mobility service M, who have developed proprietary A.I. technology to improve efficiency and utilization. We want to be involved in creating the cities of the future and keep them livable. This initiative gives us an opportunity to do that and take on responsibility in our own hometown at the same time."

Technology that will be tested in the zone includes geo-enabling solutions and services ensuring that cars in the zone operate in electric-only mode and remain within speed limits, as well as traffic infrastructure that can connect to active safety features in cars and share information between road users. Audi is testing similar vehicle-to-infrastructure technology in Georgia and Virginia.

"We want to use our knowledge and technology to help create a future city that is electrified, connected, shared and climate-neutral," said Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars. "This is an opportunity to lead by example, by testing new technologies and services in a live large scale environment, we can show that if it is possible here, it is possible anywhere."

The partnership is also exploring fully electric mobility hubs, autonomous taxis, and an easy-to-use charging network for electric cars. One aspect of this technology may be park-and-charge sans cord, a method that is getting tested in Norway right now.

Volvo isn't the first city to develop an incubator for emerging tech. Toyota recently announced that it will expand the company's research into renewable energy by creating a city at the base of Mt. Fuji.

The Green City Zone initiative starts in spring 2021 and will gradually scale up going forward.

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