As the U.S. Discusses Infrastructure, Can Practical Quantum Computing Play a Role?

5 min readJun 15, 2021

The Biden administration recently announced a $2 trillion infrastructure and job creation plan aimed at modernizing existing roadways, improving drinking water quality, implementing broadband internet for all, strengthening the electrical grid, and more. Others in Congress have a more slimmed down package, but are also looking at modernizing the fundamental facilities and systems that allow our national economy to function. The recent focus on national infrastructure — which often deals with complicated processes and technologies — begs the question: can today’s practical quantum computing play a role in these efforts?

The simple answer is yes. Until recently, the concept of quantum computing seemed like science fiction, but many would be surprised to know that businesses of all sizes — from startups to Fortune 500 companies — have actually been benefiting from quantum computing for years, and many of those applications directly relate to infrastructure. Several private sector companies are already building high-impact applications via hybrid quantum computing in areas the infrastructure plan looks to address.

As the federal government begins to strategize how to best invest in revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure, we think it’s important to demystify how quantum can add value to these efforts, both today and in the years to come.

Quantum-Intelligent Transportation Networks

The new infrastructure plan aims to modernize “20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main-streets.” It will also replace “thousands of buses and rail cars, repair hundreds of stations, renew airports, and expand transit and rail into new communities.” This plan will likely require transportation networks to be built at the local level, with national impact in mind. That’s easier said than done.

Designing sophisticated transportation networks is an intractable problem for classical computing systems once the task reaches a certain size. Fortunately, quantum computers — with their ability to solve complex problems with various variables and constraints — can step in to fill the gap. Quantum computers can simultaneously map different modes of transportation in real time, updating routes and schedules to solve for disruptions. The Australian Department of Defense recently announced that they were enlisting quantum computing to optimize how autonomous vehicles resupply army forces from a central base. And Volkswagen has already solved a problem like this using quantum annealing technology; VW routed buses to optimize traffic flow in Lisbon, Portugal in 2019.

In the maritime industry, some global ports are looking at how quantum computing can assist with optimizing port activities. In terms of travel operations, we’ve seen applications which optimize flight gate assignments at European airports. Whether it be roadways, rails, airways, or waterways, today’s quantum technology has the power to solve significant challenges for key infrastructure projects through intelligent design.

Optimizing Clean Drinking Water With Quantum

An infrastructure package that modernizes much of the nation’s drinking water systems will require a nation-wide approach that will likely surpass the capabilities of classical computing systems. But there is hope: today’s quantum computers are particularly capable of solving complex optimization problems like this. The federal government could leverage today’s quantum technology to choose the optimal pathway for replacing lead pipes, capping abandoned mines, and laying thousands of miles of transmission lines.

DENSO, the global automotive components manufacturer headquartered in Japan, is an excellent indicator for the value quantum computers can offer for this type of project. The company worked with annealing quantum computers to optimize the movement of Automated Guided Vehicles on their factory floors at the same time. Their factories saw 15x efficiency improvement by optimizing control of these robots. Groovenauts, another Japanese-based company, used quantum-powered machine learning to optimize garbage collection routes in Tokyo. They saw a significant uptick in efficiency using quantum technology, and even saw a nearly 60% reduction in carbon emissions. Both these use cases serve as examples of the real-world value quantum technology can provide for nationwide projects such as upgraded drinking water systems.

Creating Widespread Broadband Internet Access

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of equitable access to broadband internet for all Americans, and quantum computers can help make this a reality. Recent quantum computing work in Italy paints an interesting picture for the potential here. Telecom Italia became the first telecommunications operator in Europe to implement quantum computing algorithms in planning its next-generation mobile networks. The company worked with D-Wave to optimize the implementation of telecom infrastructure, performing the task “10 times faster than traditional optimisation methods.” Beyond a speedup in efficiency, quantum computers enable these types of solutions to be adaptable, configuring networks in real time and improving service quality. There is a big opportunity to replicate something similar in the U.S.

Electrical Grid

Part of the infrastructure package calls out shoring up the electric grid. Practical quantum computing has the ability and power to support in building a more resilient and reliable grid. To build such a system, computational analysis will be critical given the “growing proliferation of distributed energy resources (DERs), increased reliance on variable renewable generation, [and the] emergence of new types of loads such as electric vehicles (EVs).” The need for timely actional data analysis of this multi-dimensional power system will require new classes of models and algorithms, which quantum computing could boost.

Quantum computers can be a critical part of the federal government’s plans to implement infrastructure improvements across the nation — saving time, money, and additional resources. What’s more, quantum computers can now be accessed securely via the cloud, allowing problems to be processed and solved more quickly, and with today’s hybrid-solvers, the technology can tackle government-scale problems.

Solving infrastructure challenges across industries, and on a national scale, has the potential to touch almost every American’s life. The time is now for the U.S. government to seriously consider leveraging quantum computing technologies to solve complex infrastructure issues.

To learn more about the 250+ early applications D-Wave’s customers have built with its systems click here. To learn more about Leap, D-Wave’s quantum cloud service, which allows for organizations to solve problems with up to a million variables, click here. To get started in quantum computing, click here to find out more about the D-Wave Launch program.