Quantum-computing vendor D-Wave Systems Inc. said Tuesday it is giving researchers and companies studying the novel coronavirus free access to its early-stage, experimental machines over the cloud.
Canadian firm D-Wave is among several technology companies providing free advanced computing resources to researchers working to combat the global pandemic.
, for example, in March started offering free remote access to two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
D-Wave has assembled a team of experts from about a dozen universities and companies including
and startup Menten AI who are familiar with its quantum-computing services to help interested researchers program the computers.
“We have a fairly unique system that could add value,” said Alan Baratz, the company’s chief executive. Access to the company’s quantum-computing system normally costs about $2,000 an hour, whereas access to its hybrid system costs about $100 an hour, he said.
Researchers trying to combat the respiratory illness known as Covid-19 could use D-Wave’s quantum-computing system or its hybrid machine to possibly speed up certain calculations related to drug discovery and hospital logistics, according to Mr. Baratz and other experts. The company’s hybrid machine uses graphics-processing units, commonly found in laptops and cell phones, as well as quantum processors.
There is currently no commercial-grade quantum computer on the market, but many companies, including D-Wave, are building quantum-computing systems using different technologies and architectures that could one day prove to be more powerful than traditional computers, including supercomputers. Companies including financial services firms and automakers are experimenting with early-stage quantum computers currently offered by firms such as D-Wave.
Amazon Web Services subsidiary has recently launched quantum computing services. It says quantum computers are not yet at the stage where they can provide immediate benefit in a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. Computations that run on currently available quantum computers don’t exhibit a game-changing speedup for solving practical problems, according to AWS.
Still, researchers are trying to test the technology’s power.
Japanese startup Sigma-i Co. is exploring how D-Wave’s quantum-computing systems could be used to solve optimization problems related to sending Covid-19 patients to the right hospitals in the fastest time while not over-burdening health-care systems.
By harnessing the properties of quantum physics, quantum computers have the potential to sort through a vast number of possibilities nearly instantaneously and come up with a probable solution. While traditional computers store information as either zeros or ones, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which represent and store information as both zeros and ones simultaneously.
“What we’re working on right now is on the issue of handoff by allocating patients to medical facilities as close as possible according to the patient’s symptoms, so as not to exceed the capacity of the medical facilities,” Sigma-i Chief Executive Masayuki Ohzeki said in an email.
This is a mathematical problem that can be done on a quantum-computing system that takes into account the distance from the origin of the patients to the medical facilities as well as the patient’s symptoms and the capacity of each medical facility, he said.
A quantum computer could also be used to help quickly validate a vaccine for the virus. Such machines, though, are still in their very early stages, said Martin Reynolds, vice president and analyst at research firm
covering emerging technologies.
Volkswagen, which has previously experimented with quantum computers from D-Wave and other vendors to calculate the fastest routes for different vehicles, has several experts on hand to help researchers interested in using D-Wave’s machines for Covid-19 research.
“In the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the potential of quantum computing can open up new opportunities,” said Florian Neukart, director of advanced technologies and IT innovation at Volkswagen Group of America, in an email.
Menten AI, a San Francisco-based startup that uses machine learning and quantum computing to design protein drugs and enzymes for use in drug discovery, said D-Wave’s hybrid quantum system has shown promising results outside of Covid-19 research.
The company recently used D-Wave’s hybrid machine to run several computations related to protein packing, which is a component of drug discovery, said Hans Melo, co-founder and CEO.
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