High-Tech Problem Solvers

Volkswagen becomes first to use real-time quantum computing to solve congestion

Volkswagen has successfully demonstrated the first rear-time use of quantum computing to solve a traffic jam.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Ford is using quantum computing to simulate traffic jam scenarios in an effort to ease congestion in Seattle, a city experiencing rapid population growth that is confined in its boundaries on two sides by large bodies of water. Volkswagen has successfully demonstrated the use of live quantum computing to help optimize traffic routing.

During the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal nine public transit buses used a traffic management system developed by Volkswagen scientists, powered by a D-Wave quantum computer, to calculate the fastest travel routes individually and in near-real time.

"People who drive from the fair back to their hotels or into the city and use our Quantum shuttles, reach their destination faster," said Abdallah Shanti, Global CIO Volkswagen Brand and CIO Region Americas. "We can significantly reduce travel time. Traffic in major cities is highly complex due to a large number of road users," explains Shanti. The computing power that would be needed to optimize the flow of traffic is exorbitant. "That's why we've tried to solve this problem with D-Wave's quantum computers."

This advances a narrative that is twenty years in the making. The power of using quantum computing has been known for decades but the real-life integration of the technology has been reliant on the development of new technologies that can properly take on the challenge. Volkswagen's computing system relies on the D-Wave quantum annealer, a different kind of machine than what is used by other companies, including Google.

According to Volkswagen, "Quantum annealers can only solve very specific distribution problems, and researchers at VW Data Labs in San Francisco and Munich believe traffic optimization can be one of them."

Volkswagen sees this recent demonstration as a solid first step toward the technology's full integration into the market. The system has been designed so that it can applied to any city and to any vehicle, making it scalable depending on the needs of the environment and conditions. However, this may not come to your personal vehicle any time soon. The company says that it is focusing on using the tech in fleet cars, taxis, and public transportation.

VW is already scouting locations for pilot programs.

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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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Bruce Pascal is one of the most devoted Hot Wheels collectors on the planet.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Pascal

The first Hot Wheels arrived in stores in 1968 and it wasn't long until they became the number one toy. Bruce Pascal was seven years old at the time and remembers the toy immediately becoming popular with his circle of friends.

"It's hard to explain the craze today, but Hot Wheels was huge. All of my friends were saving up to buy all the Hot Wheels they could," Pascal said.

While he was growing up, Pascal, like kids across the country, kept his Hot Wheels in a cigar box. As he grew up, the cigar box gathered more dust, sitting on a shelf for 30 years until Pascal rediscovered the collection in 1999.

Volkswagen Beach Bomb Hot Wheels The pink Volkswagen Beach Bomb is the most sought-after Hot Wheels car in the world. Photo courtesy of Bruce Pascal

"That excited feeling I had as a boy was rekindled instantly," said Pascal. "My friend offered to pay me $200 for the cigar box. I declined and held onto them, but it was his offer that made me start researching the value of Hot Wheels and pursuing collecting as an adult."

His search became a bit obsessive. Pascal began calling other collectors, taking out newspaper ads, and even used a 1969 telephone book of Mattel employees to see if any former workers had rare toys they would be willing to part with for a price. He collected everything he could, including Hot Wheels memorabilia like blueprints, original drawings, sales brochures, and wood models.

His collection grew from that cigar box to thousands of Hot Wheels. Yet Pascal was not satisfied. He still had not found the one Hot Wheels vehicle that was alluding him, the most valuable Volkswagen ever produced - the pink Volkswagen Beach Bomb prototype.

The model was a bit of a folly. When VW and Hot Wheels initially created it, the car's narrow body and surf boards out the back window made the vehicle unable to stay upright when rolled. So, it was redesigned and the sides became more weighted and the surfboards were moved to the sides of the vehicle. This was the model that made it into production. The Beach Bomb was sold with a sticker sheet of flowers to decorate the vehicle, an offering that was very of its time.

Volkswagen Beach Bomb Hot Wheels There are only two of the pink models in existence.Photo courtesy of Bruce Pascal

The original prototypes with the surfboards out the back window are extremely rare, as only Hot Wheels employees had access to them. Of these prototypes, the pink ones are the rarest of all. There are only two known to be in existence.

"I already had heard about [the Beach Bomb] in purple, green, red, light blue and gold. I even had heard about an unpainted model," said Pascal. "But pink was extremely hard to find. Most Hot Wheels models were marketed to young boys, who the brand assumed didn't want to play with pink. They created just a few pink [Beach Bomb] models to market to their female audience."

Eventually, Pascal networked his way into purchasing both pink Beach Bombs models. He has since sold one of them to another friend and collector, but the one that is in the best condition has stayed with him.

Today, Pascal owns over 4,000 Hot Wheels models and about 3,000 pieces of memorabilia, but the pink Volkswagen Beach Bomb remains his most prized possession.

"I won't say how much I purchased it for," said Pascal, "but it is worth an estimated $150,000 today."

To help prevent sun damage, the Beach Bomb remains in a dark, Plexiglass case. Pascal displays the model in his personal museum in Maryland, where he gives private tours to other Hot Wheels enthusiasts. He has also loaned the model out to other automotive museums and events for display.

"I want other people to experience the Beach Bomb. I've found so much joy in learning about classic cars and Hot Wheels, and I hope I can spark some of that in other people. It's a treasure to find these rare models," Pascal said.

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