Putting Computers to Work Against COVID-19
Finding a vaccine and solving other complex issues related to the coronavirus is going to take a lot of brain power. From both humans and machines.
On the machine side, the effort includes artificial intelligence, supercomputers and even quantum computers. Yes, quantum computers, which use the principles of quantum mechanics to enable super-fast and ultra-smart computing.
Free Quantum Computing Access with Expert Partners
D-Wave quantum computers. (Image: D-Wave)
British Columbia-based D-Wave Systems is giving scientists and organizations working on problems related to the COVID-19 coronavirus free access to the company’s Leap 2 quantum computing cloud service. Remote access to the network, which was launched on Feb. 26, is available in Canada, Japan, the U.S. and most of Europe.
Several existing customers, including Volkswagen and Denso, are partnering with D-Wave on the initiative. Medical researchers will be able to work with specialized engineering teams at these companies to help program the devices and unleash the power of quantum computing on the virus.
Vaccines, Research, Diagnostics, Modeling and Logistics
In addition to developing and validating a vaccine, other potential areas where quantum computers could be put to use against the coronavirus include:
- analyzing new diagnostic methods
- managing and coordinating research
- modeling the spread of the virus
- optimizing hospital logistics and supply distribution
One example: Japanese startup Sigma-i is working on a way to use D-Wave’s quantum-computing systems to better match patients with hospitals based on symptoms, locations, availability and specialization during the pandemic.
What is Quantum Computing?
Conventional computers process data in terms of bits that are either on or off (designated by 1s and 0s). Quantum computers work with “qubits” that may be on, off or somewhere between.
As a result, quantum computers can tackle more complex problems (with as many as 10,000 variables) by simultaneously considering multiple non-binary options.
Founded in 1999, D-Wave released its first commercial system in 2010. It has more than 200 user companies.
Among the initial projects being explored for the nascent technology are airline scheduling, election modeling, chemistry simulation and preventative healthcare. Potential transportation applications include new vehicle design and manufacturing systems, traffic management and autonomous vehicle algorithms.
Several auto industry companies are testing the technology:
- Denso is using D-Wave’s computers to research manufacturing efficiency and automated processes.
- Volkswagen has used quantum systems to aid the development of next-generation batteries and real-time connected traffic management.
- Ford is partnering with Microsoft on a traffic balancing simulation of Seattle highways.
- Daimler is using Google’s quantum computer to research new material chemistries for electric vehicle components.
Other COVID-19 Computing Efforts
While quantum computers offer the most long-term potential, researchers also are working with mere supercomputers to combat the coronavirus.
Researchers also can access Google’s Kaggle open platform for machine learning, including competing in data science competitions.
The Digital Transformation Institute, a new research consortium established by C3.ai, Microsoft, several universities, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, is soliciting proposals for “AI techniques to mitigate pandemics.”
IBM is sharing its AI-driven search tools and supercomputing resources. The company also is part of the government-backed COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium that aims to increase the speed and capacity of coronavirus research.
Here’s wishing more power to all these efforts.
Dan Nicholson is vice president of General Motors Global Propulsion Systems, the organization that had been “GM Powertrain” for 24 years.
How GM, Toyota and a Couple of Gutsy Managers Made the U.S. Version of the Two-Seater a Reality
It’s the fifth generation of a vehicle that has been increasing in sales year after year since its introduction in 1997.