It’s a bold new world for automakers. After a century of development and fine-tuning, the internal combustion engine is going the way of the dodos as Europe transitions to clean energy.
But the future of the car involves more than just electric motors. The dawn of fully autonomous vehicles may be just over the technological horizon, and the promise of a million-mile battery is drawing ever closer. To find the path to these technologies, European automakers are increasingly partnering with quantum computing companies.
The European automotive industry has a long and rich history of technological innovation. From its beginnings with the Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau in 1898 to the 2023 masterpiece McLaren Artura, Europe’s place at the forefront of the industry has never been questioned. With that in mind, let’s look to the future.
The next steps for the industry mean a quantum leap forward. Although quantum computing and other quantum-based technologies are still in their infancy, there are countless ways they can help the automotive industry.
Up front, the low-hanging fruit is autonomous driving. Despite the early hype, researchers and automakers have yet to crack the nut for self-driving cars. With every step companies like BMW, Tesla, and Waymo take, hundreds of edge cases seem to crop up that the AI can’t handle.
We’re probably a long way from building a quantum computer that fits in a car, where it would presumably act as its brain. But quantum acceleration — the ability of quantum processors to perform calculations and/or run algorithms that a classical system could not perform in a useful amount of time — could offer advances in several fundamental areas for autonomous vehicle systems.
Scientists at Terra Quantum AG recently teamed up with Volkswagen to find novel ways to use hybrid quantum neural networks to improve image recognition. This particular experiment demonstrated the potential of quantum technologies to drastically improve the quality assurance process.
Essentially, the researchers used quantum-enabled AI to increase the accuracy of their image recognition capabilities, thereby improving the quality of the car manufacturing process. The techniques they are working on developing could easily spill over into other industries, but they could also be used to give self-driving cars better “eyes” by increasing the speed and accuracy with which neural networks can process images.
Pasqal, a Paris-based quantum startup, has also partnered with BMW in another quantum-based endeavor. Together with the German-owned automaker, the company hopes to find new, lighter and more durable materials for building cars. The team hopes to eventually reach the point where the design process is fast, accurate, and includes zero prototyping to ensure a clean energy approach to every aspect of the car manufacturing process.
BMW and Volkswagen are early adopters ahead of the impending quantum computing hardware explosion, but rest assured that every other major automaker also has a plan to join the action — experts predict the quantum technology market is worth nearly $500 billion US dollars by 2030. And the shift toward autonomous vehicles (and away from ownership) will require an entirely different view of supply and logistics, something the quantum industry is investing heavily in improving.
Ultimately, the future of manufacturing as a whole, not just automotive, is quantum. But it may be a while before things really move. The good news, however, is that our analysis shows that automakers, as pioneering partners, will benefit from Europe’s fast-growing quantum startup economy.