Airbus expects quantum computing to have major production, performance and efficiency benefits as the technology plays a role in its cyber security, aerospace and communications businesses.
“We are users of quantum computing and intend to use it to deliver more powerful services and systems,” said Paolo Bianco, global research and technology cooperation manager for Airbus to an online audience at the Inside Quantum Technology virtual event this week.
“We are not very much interested in developing our own quantum technology but will help others develop quantum technologies so that we can integrate them into what we are doing. Our aim is to be quantum-ready. It’s a race, and we want to hit the ground running.”
The multinational aerospace corporation and world’s largest airline manufacturer is well on its way to utilising and helping influence the develop the future of quantum computing. For example, Bianco pointed to three key quantum technology areas Airbus is interested in – communication/security, computing and sensing.
"The field of quantum communications is where we started in 2012 as the company was evaluating the technology’s threat to secure communications," Bianco said.
According to a recent Airbus blog, "Today’s cryptographic algorithms—such as the widely used encryption via asymmetric keys—will not be able to sustain attacks by the quantum computers of tomorrow. Our goal is to develop a future secure communications infrastructure for our aerospace platforms based on security-enhancing quantum information technologies (algorithms, authentications, keys).”
Airbus wants to make quantum computing a significant part of its ongoing high-performance computing (HPC) work.
"We are an avid HPC user because we do a lot of simulations and design," the company says, "and we have invested a lot of time and money to understand how quantum computing can be used with HPC to improve our efficiency and performance."
The third area Airbus is looking to develop is quantum sensors that "are effective at measuring physical quantities such as frequency, acceleration, rotation rates, electric and magnetic fields, and temperature with the highest relative and absolute accuracy," Airbus stated.
"We believe this could have direct applications in improving our navigation systems in which precise acceleration measurement is used to achieve position data," Airbus stated. "In addition, quantum sensors could act as payloads for a range of different applications, such as climate dynamics from satellites or underground resources surveying from an aircraft."
In addition to those three areas, the company 18 months ago began the Airbus Quantum Computing Challenge (AQCC) to get the quantum community involved in addressing aerospace-flight physics problems.
The challenge put forward five distinct problems, such as saving fuel or designing aircraft wings, with varying degrees of complexity, ranging from a simple mathematical question to a global flight physics problem, Airbus stated.
The challenge involved quantum-computing research from Airbus’ team and third parties, and the results were expected earlier this year. But as with many things, the announcement of the winner has been delayed due the Covid-19 pandemic, but Bianco said results are expected soon.
Beyond the Challenge, Airbus has taken part in the development of the quantum computing community.
For example it provided early funding to quantum-computing-as-a-service vendor QC Ware, which offers a cloud-based service that provides enterprises with access to quantum resources. Other vendors such as D-Wave, Google, IBM and Rigetti offer similar cloud-based resource services.
Airbus has also been involved in developing quantum technologies for use in space, as well as facilitating university research with the Quantum Technology Application Centre.
“We need to develop systems that are far away from the everyday experience…we are ready to go the extra mile to understand something we are going to use,” Bianco said. Aerospace could be one of the technologies that helps everyone learn what quantum can do, particularly in extreme environments, he said.