(Image source: Airbus)

Airbus’ quantum computing challenge may fundamentally change aircraft development

A global quantum computing competition to advance optimization and modularity in aircraft life-cycle is open to post-graduate students, academics, researchers, and professionals. The Airbus Quantum Computing Challenge (AQCC) was initiated by the Toulouse-based aerospace corporation to bring quantum computing out of laboratories and apply it directly to challenges facing the aviation industry.

With traditional computing techniques approaching their limits, quantum computing – using non-binary quantum-mechanical phenomena like superposition and entanglement – has the potential to deliver a new level of processing power not practically feasible using traditional digital methods.

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AQCC is accepting submissions until October 2019. Individuals and teams will collaborate with Airbus industry experts and vie for access to hardware and to see their solutions realized. There are currently has five distinct challenges that focus on different aspects of design, operations, and revenue streams:
  1. Aircraft Climb Optimization: While the cruise phase is considered the most important flight phase from a fuel and time optimization perspective, the ever-increasing volume of short-haul flights are bringing more attention to the climb phase. Quantum computing can be applied to arrive at a low-cost index (the relative cost of time and fuel), which is central to climb efficiency.
  2. Computational Fluid Dynamics: Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is used to demonstrate airflow behavior around the aircraft and reveal the aerodynamic forces acting on its surfaces; however, accurate CFD simulations are a resource- and time-consuming task. Quantum computing algorithms or a hybrid use of quantum and traditional computing may be able to expedite aerodynamic simulations and reduce the computing power needed to perform CFD analysis.
  3. Quantum Neural Networks for Solving Partial Deferential Equations: Partial Differential Equations (PDEs) are a major challenge when solving aerodynamic problems; their resolution requires complex numerical schemes and high computational costs. Recently, neural networks – deep-learning-based algorithms – have been developed to solve coupled PDEs. While these networks compute the time and space derivatives of a PDE, quantum computing may be able to augment this approach.  
  4. Wingbox Design Optimization: Design configurations such as airframe loads, mass modelling, and structural analysis must be simultaneously calculated, which often causes long design lead times, convoluted processes, and conservative assessments when using traditional computing. Quantum computing can evaluate different parameters simultaneously, preserving structural integrity while optimizing weight – which is particularly important in aircraft wingbox design, where weight optimization is key to low operating costs and reduced environmental impact.
  5. Aircraft Loading Optimization: Determining payload capability to maximize revenue, optimize fuel burn, and lower overall operating costs is limited by the aircraft’s operational envelope, which is determined by each mission’s maximum payload capacity, the aircraft’s center of gravity, and fuselage shear limits. By calculating the optimal aircraft configuration under coupled operational constraints, quantum computing can be used for practical problem solving and scale towards more complex issues.

Airbus has integrated quantum computing technologies into its products and solutions to varying degrees. As an active user of high-performance computing (HPC), Airbus is leverages quantum technologies in fields such as route optimization and satellite imagery.

Airbus will use the challenge to supplement its own quantum computing applications with in-house and external knowledge, data, and expertise.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
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