Quantum Computing for Better Logistics


  • This article covers quantum computing in optimising logistics.
  • Quantum computing allows faster solutions to complex problems by using ‘qubits’ to process multiple possibilities simultaneously
  • Applications in logistics include route optimisation, warehouse management, and inventory control.
  • Current challenges include early-stage technology and a lack of understanding, but advancements make quantum computing more accessible.
  • A case study demonstrate practical benefits such as reduced travel time and improved efficiency.
  • Quantum computing may profoundly impact the future of supply chain management, necessitating businesses to prepare for this emerging technology.

Introduction to Quantum Computing

Understanding Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is a revolutionary computing paradigm that operates on the principles of quantum mechanics, the theory that explains the nature and behaviour of energy and matter on the quantum (atomic and subatomic) level. Unlike classical computers that use bits (0s and 1s) as their smallest data unit, quantum computers use quantum bits, or ‘qubits.’ Qubits have a unique property – they can exist in multiple states simultaneously, thanks to the principle of superposition. This means they can process a vast number of possibilities simultaneously, potentially solving complex problems much more quickly than classical computers.

Below we see two situations. On the left we see a binary 0 or 1, but the essential difference in quantum computing, is the ability to handle multiple superimposed states (Qubits) within a QSphere:

superposition in quantum computing

The Difference between Quantum and Classical Computing

Classical computers, which encompass most of the computing devices we use daily, operate on bits that can either be a 0 or a 1, not both. They process data in a linear, sequential manner. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits that can be both 0 and 1 at the same time due to superposition. Furthermore, due to another quantum property called entanglement, the state of one qubit can depend on the state of another, no matter the distance between them. This interconnectedness allows quantum computers to process information in a highly parallel manner, exploring multiple solutions simultaneously. It is this simultaneous processing capability that has the potential to solve complex optimisation problems much faster.

difference between classical computing and quantum computing

Quantum Computing Explained for an 11-year-old:

You know how your computer games can only make one decision at a time, even if it’s really fast? Quantum computers are like they’re playing multiple games at the same time! They do this using “quantum bits” or “qubits”.

Let’s imagine a magical coin. When you flip this coin, it can show both heads and tails simultaneously instead of just showing heads or tails. And it only decides what it is when you look at it. Qubits are like these magical coins. Because of this, a quantum computer can process way more information than a regular computer.

Quantum Computing Explained for a Supply Chain Expert:

Imagine you’re running a delivery company and must find the quickest route to deliver all your packages. If you had to check every possible route, it could take a very long time, even with a powerful computer.

Now, think of quantum computing as a super-powered GPS. Instead of checking every route one by one, a quantum computer can evaluate multiple routes simultaneously. This is possible because of a concept called “superposition”, similar to being in multiple places simultaneously.

Also, quantum computers use “quantum entanglement”, allowing them to instantly share information, no matter the distance. So, if one part of the system finds the quickest route, all parts instantly know about it.

This way, quantum computing can potentially revolutionise supply chains, drastically reducing calculation times and increasing efficiency.

The Role of Quantum Computing in Logistics

Route Optimisation

Route optimisation is one of the most prominent quantum computing uses in logistics. Finding the most efficient routes for a fleet of vehicles – known as the vehicle routing problem (VRP) – is notoriously complex, especially as the number of delivery points increases. With its ability to process multiple possibilities simultaneously, Quantum computing could significantly speed up the solution to these problems, reducing costs and improving efficiency.

Warehouse Management

Quantum computing also holds promise for optimising warehouse management. Quantum algorithms could help determine optimal storage locations for goods, sequencing of picking operations, and layout designs to minimise retrieval time and maximise space utilisation.

Inventory Control

In inventory control, quantum computing could help balance the delicate trade-off between holding and stockout costs, simultaneously considering multiple influencing factors. The result would be a more optimal inventory policy, with potential benefits such as lower costs and improved customer service.

Challenges and Prospects of Quantum Computing in Logistics

  • Current Technological Limitations: Despite the significant potential, quantum computing in logistics has its challenges. Quantum computers are still in their early stages of development, and currently, available machines can’t yet outperform classical computers on practical problems. They also require highly specialised environments (near absolute zero temperatures) to function correctly, adding to the complexity and cost.
  • Overcoming the Understanding Gap – Change Management: Another barrier is the lack of a widespread understanding of quantum computing principles among business and logistics professionals. However, this is changing. Increased focus on education and training, coupled with advancements in quantum software that abstract the underlying complexity, are making quantum computing more accessible.

Case Study: Quantum Computing in Action

Successful Implementations of Quantum Computing

Companies like Volkswagen and D-Wave are already exploring quantum computing in logistics. Volkswagen, for instance, partnered with D-Wave to optimise the routes of its buses in Lisbon, Portugal and Wolfsburg, Germany, as presented during the WebSummit conference in 2019, successfully demonstrating the practical application of quantum computing.

Check out the finer details here.

Impacts and Outcomes

The team used an Android app leveraging a cloud-based ‘quantum web service’ (QWS) platform directly coupled with a D-Wave quantum computer to update the bus routes in real time. So despite the notoriously windy and busy roads of Lisbon, the result was that the bus drivers were able to ‘achieve fairly consistent travel times regardless of the time of day.’ 

If this were attempted using conventional computing power, the route updates wouldn’t be in real-time and therefore lose meaning for the drivers.

Future Implications of Quantum Computing in Logistics

Potential Long-term Impact on the Supply Chain

The advent of quantum computing will likely have a profound long-term impact on the supply chain. As quantum technology evolves, it could drastically improve the speed and quality of decision-making in logistics, from routing and scheduling to inventory management and demand forecasting. This could translate into reduced costs, improved service levels, and, ultimately, more competitive businesses.

Preparing for the Quantum Revolution

Businesses need to start preparing for the quantum revolution now. This can include investing in quantum computing education and research, experimenting with quantum algorithms using cloud-based quantum computing services, and partnering with technology providers and academia to stay on the cutting edge of developments.

Conclusion: The Quantum Leap in Logistics

In conclusion, while quantum computing is still in its nascent stages, it has the potential to transform logistics and supply chain operations in the future significantly. Reducing computation time and providing more optimised solutions to complex problems could herald a new era of efficiency and effectiveness in logistics. As we stand on the cusp of this quantum revolution, the question is not if but when and how its impact will be felt in logistics.

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