For certain kinds of problems, quantum computing promises to offer advantages over even the fastest supercomputers. Because the technology is only now moving from theoretical research into practical use, however, there is an urgent need to identify which kinds of applications would benefit most from quantum computing, particularly in industry. At the same time, research is needed to develop the software, algorithms, and IT infrastructure that will be necessary to take full advantage of the power that quantum computing could offer.
The High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) aims to help fulfill these ambitious goals in a newly announced project called SEQUOIA (Software Engineering for Industrial Hybrid Quantum Applications and Algorithms). Working together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (Fraunhofer IAO) and five additional partners, HLRS will conduct research to improve the performance of algorithms for quantum computing. Additionally, HLRS will focus on developing hybrid approaches that integrate quantum computing with existing high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) methods. By pursuing this research in the context of collaboration with industry partners, the results should lead to quantum computing applications that both resolve current challenges facing HPC and AI, and demonstrate the potential benefits of quantum computing for industry.
SEQUOIA is one of six new projects funded through grants totaling €19 million from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Housing. Fraunhofer IAO will lead the project, which will operate in coordination with the national Competence Center "Quantum Computing Baden-Württemberg". The competence center is managing the testing and use of an IBM Q System One quantum computer that is being installed in early 2021 in Ehningen, a small town just south of Stuttgart.
"The access to Germany's first IBM quantum computer will make Stuttgart and the State of Baden-Württemberg a European center for research and development in the field of quantum computing," said HLRS Director Michael Resch. "As is the case with HLRS's high-performance computing systems, however, it is important that we ensure that researchers in the industrial high-tech community across our region who could benefit from this new technology also have access to the necessary solutions and expertise. SEQUOIA will investigate fundamental problems that will need to be addressed to achieve this goal."
The excitement surrounding quantum computers results from the fact that they are substantially different from other kinds of high-performance computing systems. Based on principles of quantum physics, they have already begun to demonstrate the possibility of "quantum supremacy," an accomplishment in which quantum computers perform calculations faster than supercomputers running on more traditional architectures.
This fundamental difference in the technology, however, means that software and algorithms designed for traditional high-performance computing and artificial intelligence applications can not simply be ported onto a quantum computer.
For this reason, researchers at HLRS will investigate questions that are important for the programming of quantum computing systems and their usage in real-world scenarios. This will include evaluating how well existing algorithms for simulation and artificial intelligence perform on quantum systems and optimizing them in ways that make them run more efficiently. This algorithm and software development will take place in the context of demonstration projects investigating their potential to improve industrial applications.
Although quantum computers promise to be faster at running certain applications, researchers expect them to have the most impact for future research by integrating them into hybrid workflows that optimally combine quantum computing with HPC, AI, and other more established approaches. In order to make such workflows operate efficiently, however, research is necessary to develop the software interfaces between quantum computers and classical computing platforms.
Looking at potential applications of quantum computing in industry, HLRS will develop, evaluate, and test a variety of hybrid approaches involving quantum computers. Specifically, researchers at HLRS will investigate hybrid applications for commonly encountered problems in the fields of optimization, machine learning, and linear algebra.
Close cooperation with industry will be important to the success of SEQUOIA. The exact applications that the project will investigate are still to be determined, but the team currently plans to look at the relevance of quantum computing for industries such as manufacturing, robotics, logistics, energy, engineering, finance, and healthcare.
"We expect to identify applications of quantum computing that offer clear opportunities to increase productivity in comparison with more traditional approaches," said Dennis Hoppe, who will oversee HLRS's activities in SEQUOIA. "At the same time, gaining a better understanding of the possibilities of quantum computing and demonstrating real-world applications of hybrid scenarios that combine the power of HPC and quantum computers will be a valuable outcome of this project."
— Christopher Williams