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TfNSW to use quantum tech to aid network management

Transport for NSW has enlisted the help of a Sydney-based quantum computing start-up to tackle transport network management and congestion problems across the state’s public transport network. The research project with the University of Sydney’s first quantum spin-off company will investigate ways the technology can be used to “create and manage a more resilient transport network”.

The region’s Transport Minister stated that the partnership was a “rare opportunity” to work with quantum experts to “tackle complex future network management and congestion problems”.

While details on the project are scarce, one of the possibilities being considered is dynamic scheduling, whereby schedules are updated in real-time based on crowding across the network. TfNSW is already using native machine learning technology in the Web Services ecosystem provided by the world’s largest e-commerce platform to predict delays across the network using weather, Opal card and special event data.

The Transport Minister stated, “Future applications… could include mapping all transport modes and crowd movements simultaneously in real-time, and automatically updating the schedule to solve disruption issues. We could see all trains, busses, ferries, trams and motorways essentially ‘talking to each other’ to find out where customers are and deploy resources where needed. It could be used for massive public events, like New Year’s Eve or Vivid Festival.”

Speaking at the launch of NSW’s future transport technology roadmap last month, the quantum tech firm’s Founder stated that the project will involve building a “world-first prototype of a product [called] Fire Opal”.

The Founder said the work would “take all of the capabilities that we have developed and validated on real world-leading quantum computers, and deploy this to give completely new tools to data scientists and analysts at TfNSW”.

“As the industry evolves, and as we cross the threshold of quantum advantage, we find ourselves in a position where TfNSW is in an enviable position of being quantum ready,” he said.

“So right now we’re moving forward with this relationship. We’re very excited to see the way that the government has embraced the role of an enabler of advanced technology.

It was noted that quantum could solve problems that are “endemic” to transport such as when “you get off one mode of transport… [and] you end up waiting for 15 minutes for the next bus because you just missed the bus that was scheduled before.”

Technology’s use to create safer roads is something that the Australian government is looking into. According to another article, Professor Michael Milford, a robotics expert and Acting Director of the QUT Centre for Robotics, believes that high-definition (HD) map creation could be Australia’s chance to lead a core aspect of the autonomous vehicle technology space, supported by government-industry collaboration.

Professor Milford has conducted research projects into mapping for autonomous cars and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to see how autonomous cars could handle Australian roads.

“Map updating is a major challenge to autonomous vehicle adoption everywhere, including Australia, but it’s not yet a mature field globally so there’s [an] opportunity for us to catch up quickly,” he said.

Professor Milford noted that current European mapping solutions don’t recognise unique Australian signs or infrastructure and require customisation. He noted that although widespread autonomous vehicle use is some time away, the primary aim now is to ensure that the digital, physical and regulatory infrastructure is ready to go.

“We need to plan and design technology that is fit for purpose from the very beginning, not shoehorn it in at the very end when we realise the tech doesn’t do what it’s meant to do,” he said.

Collaboration between map creators, localisation services and governments for infrastructure updates and privacy regulation would be the ideal solution. Current maps do not have all the information necessary to be full HD maps or links to information about infrastructure changes. Unless a car knows explicitly about environmental changes like road works, for example, positioning systems will find it hard to work well, he said.

Government notifications around these events could be very important, with Professor Milford adding that meaningful government involvement or oversight is vital due to the significant data and privacy implications of these maps.

While positioning is a core part of the technology offering from autonomous vehicle companies, it may also need improving to provide accurate services in Australia. Professor Milford notes that while current positioning systems work well most of the time, there are failure points, like heavy rain and tunnels, where the technology is not reliable enough.

QUT, which specialises in robotic and autonomous vehicle positioning research, is working with the government and industry on the future of HD maps and investigating the ideal models for government-industry collaboration.

“If we started a staged approach toward this collaborative model now, within two years we would have a working prototype for how information from private map providers, the government, and possibly from vehicles on the road could be shared between all of those key stakeholders to ensure maps are as accurate and up to date as possible,” Professor Milford said.

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