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Technology

Toyota and Mitsubishi Chemical to use IBM quantum computer

12 Japan companies aim to speed use of new tech to discover materials and more

A consortium of Japanese companies will use an IBM quantum computer for research and development purposes. (Photo courtesy of IBM)

TOKYO -- A group of Japanese companies, including Toyota Motor, will begin using an IBM quantum computer, searching for new ways to apply the next-generation computer to industrial purposes, Nikkei has learned.

Toyota, Mitsubishi Chemical, and 10 other companies plan to jointly use the quantum computer, which is designed for commercial use. One possibility is to utilize the system to develop new materials.

IBM will install the unit at the Kawasaki Business Incubation Center (KBIC) in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo. The system, which is scheduled to be up and running by the end of July, is based on a "gate model," meaning that it is highly versatile and has many potential applications.

Outside of the U.S., Japan is the second location to have an IBM quantum computer installed, after Germany.

The system will be used by Japan's Quantum Innovation Initiative Consortium, led by the University of Tokyo. The consortium, with members that include Toyota, Hitachi, Toshiba, and Sony Group, was formed last year with the goal of accelerating research and development in the country that takes advantage of quantum computing.

Typically, it costs billions of yen, or tens of millions of dollars, to install a quantum computer. Members of the consortium will share the cost of installation.

While verifying the functions of the quantum computer, the consortium also aims to accumulate expertise on how to use the unit differently from conventional computers.

IBM aims to work with Japanese companies to advance quantum computing and develop practical applications for its machines.

One potential application is in the chemical industry, which hopes to create innovative materials using computer simulations. Mitsubishi Chemical envisions employing the computer to develop better light-emitting diodes and solar cells. It also plans to use the IBM unit to work on lithium-air batteries, which have the potential to store several times more electricity than lithium-ion batteries currently used in smartphones and electric vehicles.

Quantum computers are also good at finding solutions to puzzles from among a huge number of potential combinations.

Toyota, as it prepares for the shift to autonomous driving, will use the computer to analyze big data taken from previous car trips, which can be used to guide vehicles along specific routes to avoid traffic jams.

In the U.S., quantum computing is used actively in the financial sector. Goldman Sachs said in April that it expects to introduce an algorithm that can speed up risk assessment and price prediction for financial instruments, possibly within five years.

At present, high-speed computers are generally thought of as supercomputers, while quantum computers are still in their infancy. Some analysts say that in terms of practical applications, it will take three to five years for quantum computers to start producing results superior to those of supercomputers, and up to 10 to 20 years for such applications to be perfected.

However, quantum computers are expected to eventually be able to perform near instantaneous calculations that would take even the fastest supercomputers hundreds of millions of years to complete. Taking advantage of this blinding speed could give Japanese companies an edge in R&D and enhance Japan's industrial competitiveness.

As quantum computers evolve, they could also be used to decrypt the codes that underpin internet communications, which would have major implications for national security.

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