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Traffic in Seattle. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

Ford and Microsoft have figured out how to leverage quantum computing — the powerful but not yet commercialized technology — to tackle traffic in Seattle.

Why it matters: By running quantum-inspired algorithms on conventional computer hardware, companies can process more data, giving them a head start on solving complex problems like how to direct thousands of vehicles simultaneously to smooth traffic flow.

  • "We don’t have to wait until quantum computers are deployed at large scale," Ben Porter, director of business development for quantum computing at Microsoft, tells Axios.

The big picture: Imagine a family trying to get ready for work and school with similar departure times, Ken Washington, Ford's chief technology officer, writes in a new blog post.

  • "If an individual day-planning app gave each person the quickest way to get going, there likely would be a bottleneck at the bathroom. Now scale that to a family of thousands…"
  • Just as families stagger bathroom time, traffic routing software could consider all the various route requests from drivers, then optimize route suggestions to minimize the number of cars sharing the road at the same time.

Today's computers can't calculate all the possible route variations fast enough, which is where quantum computing can help, Washington writes.

  • While modern computers translate information into bits — either a 1 or a 0 —
    a quantum computer can translate information into a 1, 0, and somewhere in between, meaning a lot more information can be stored and processed on a single quantum bit.
  • Yes, but: Quantum technology is fickle and still inching from theory to practice.

Microsoft has developed a method to emulate quantum behavior on traditional computers and started working with Ford in 2018 to see how the simulated approach could help tackle real world problems today.

How it works:

  • In one scenario, 5,000 vehicles — each with 10 possible routes — requested directions across Metro Seattle simultaneously.
  • In 20 seconds, balanced routing suggestions were delivered to all 5,000 vehicles.
  • The result: total congestion improved by 73% and average commuting time dropped 8% when compared to routing each car individually, in a vacuum.

What to watch: The companies will continue to try to refine their simulated approach with the goal of using quantum computing to solve intractable problems like optimizing manufacturing processes or improving batteries for electric vehicles.

Go deeper: A surprising quantum frontrunner

Go deeper

Biden says Russia likely to invade Ukraine

President Biden addressed the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine during a press briefing Wednesday, saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "my guess is he will move in."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have issued a series of warnings about Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in Kyiv earlier Wednesday that Russia could invade "on very short notice."

Biden challenges GOP agenda: "What are Republicans for?"

President Biden pushed back against Republican efforts to obstruct his agenda during a press conference Wednesday, asking "What are Republicans for?"

Why it matters: Biden's speech comes as he approaches one year in office, facing low polling numbers and a stalled agenda.

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Biden’s face mask campaign requires more imports from China

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

American mask manufacturers are getting whiplash, having gone from sleepy sector to mission-critical industry overnight — only to see sales collapse before now being suddenly in demand again.

Why it matters: As the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 rages, health experts now say Americans need legitimate N95 or KN95 masks to best protect themselves — not widely available fakes or less effective cloth masks.