Quantum leap? More like baby steps for transport and logistics in adopting Quantum computing

Quantum computing’s advocates – there about 25 companies currently studying it – believe the technology heralds a massive improvement over the advanced systems that are becoming mainstream today. For transport and logistics, quantum computing’s promise of solving ultra-complex problems in a matter of seconds and with optimal results is the stuff of fantasy.

Shipwell, a freight TMS platform based in Austin, Texas, believes that the future, while it may not be now, is more than just a glint in the eye. In April, the company, which boasts of putting a customer’s supply chain on a “single pane of glass,” used quantum technology to test an actual transport problem, finding optimal rate-route solutions on a Texas triangle connecting Houston, Dallas and Austin. Shipwell had already run scenarios on its own systems. Results were returned in seconds but they did not provide optimal results, Greg Price, Shipwell’s co-founder and CEO, said Monday at the Transparency19 conference in Atlanta. When the data ran using quantum computing technology – the IBM Q14 Melbourne – the system returned the best possible outcomes with the same lightning-fast speed, he said.

The test was not designed to compare computing speed, because Shipwell’s system was already operating super-fast, Price said. The bottom line was whether speed and quality could be combined to give Shipwell a sense that its shippers and carriers could reap better outcomes. To the latter, the answer was yes, he said.

The test doesn’t mean that the transport and logistics industry, hardly a first-mover in information technology, is ready for quantum prime time. The sector mainstream is “still pen and paper,” Price said, and the embrace of quantum computing is still at least several years away. But the direction, Price said, is clear – more orders and more equipment will yield exponential growth in route options. More inventory is on the road than in warehouses, turning trucks and trailers into moving warehouses. Increasing customer pressure will continue to collide with shrinking margins. The surge of last-mile delivery demand as e-commerce becomes the face of commerce, will add even more complexity, Price said.

Traditional computing power is not increasing exponentially to keep up, much less stay ahead, with demand, he said. In an industry that’s just getting more challenging, quantum computing is a solution that’s found a problem, Price said.

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.