Quantum computers to run Sydney’s transport network

Cutting-edge quantum computing will one day run Sydney’s vast transport network under a world-first plan to use the technology that experts say can solve complex problems in seconds, rather than centuries.

The NSW government is set to brief the technology industry in coming weeks about a plan to establish a quantum technology hub near Central Station to run the city’s transport network, with contracts set to be awarded in 2022.The technology would allow instant re-timetabling and re-routing of services to reduce waiting times.

NSW Transport Minister Rob Stokes said the government investment in quantum technology was needed more than ever after the pandemic, with the network likely to grow back unpredictably over the coming decade.

“The recovery from the pandemic makes it even more important because it’s harder to predict,” Mr Stokes said.

“Quantum computing can actually help us to deploy resources far more accurately, and we genuinely don’t know what the long-term impacts of the pandemic are going to be on travel patterns and on travel preferences.”

The government will build a Centre of Quantum Technology in Sydney’s Tech Central, helmed by an advisory panel which includes 2018 Australian of the Year and University of NSW Professor Michelle Simmons.

Professor Simmons said quantum technology would likely transform how the intricate NSW transport system is run over coming years.

“It’s a very powerful, transformational technology. It allows us to solve problems in real time that would otherwise take thousands of years,” Professor Simmons said.

“Anyone who travels, whether it’s by car, train, plane, you always want to minimise your time waiting around. You want things to be efficient. Some of the problems are so complex that classical computers can’t solve them in a timeframe that’s real for them.”

The NSW government in April signed a commercial partnership with Q-CTRL to feed live Transport for NSW data into its quantum machines and develop processes which would allow the network “self-heal” in real time.

Sydney University Professor and Q-CTRL founder Michael Biercuk said that the technology used pulses of microwaves and laser beams to manipulate atoms in a way to solve a problem.

“We have the ability to put information into individual atoms, or individual circuits of special materials called superconductors, and when we do that we have a way to represent all the different ways that parts of the transport network are connected together,” he said.

Mr Stokes said the technology would be able to reduce delays across the public transport network.

“While this might sound like the stuff of science fiction, Transport for NSW is making quantum computing a reality. It has the potential to solve problems on the network in real time by instantly recalculating timetables and routes,” Mr Stokes said.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said quantum computing could also calculate information during a bushfire or flood by mapping out the safest route on the road network or to the closest evacuation centre.

“The faster you get information in an emergency, the better your chances of protecting life and property are, so this will be a game changer when it’s rolled out to the regions,” Mr Toole said.

The government is seeking expressions of interest from global tech companies, as well as academics and researchers for trials across the transport network.

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