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CHIPS Articles: SSC Pacific, NASA partner on quantum computing

SSC Pacific, NASA partner on quantum computing
By Katherine Connor, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific staff writer - May 6, 2016
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific has entered into a collaborative research effort with the NASA Ames Research Center to understand the advantages of quantum computing in solving naval and military challenges. As part of the collaboration, SSC Pacific scientists will have access to NASA’s quantum computer, and will work with NASA Ames researchers on naval problems that are a good fit for quantum computing solutions.

Whereas traditional computers store data in binary digits (0 or 1), quantum computing uses quantum bits, or qubits, which allow for 0 or 1 or both at the same time. This “quantum superposition,” along with the quantum effects of entanglement and quantum tunnelling, enable quantum computers to consider and manipulate all combinations of bits simultaneously, making quantum computation more powerful and faster than traditional digital computing.

Five SSC Pacific scientists visited the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley to learn about the D-WAVE quantum computing machine housed at the center. D-WAVE is the only company producing a quantum computer that costs an estimated $10 to $15 million. Google purchased the machine housed at Ames and has access to 40 percent of its use as part of its agreement. Ames has another 40 percent of the time, and the final 20 percent goes to the University Space Research Association. SSC Pacific will now have access to the D-WAVE quantum computer as a portion of Ames’ allocation.

“What we’re planning to do is pick a problem which is of interest to both sides, that we can then run on their D-WAVE machine,” said Dr. Joanna Ptasinski, an SSC Pacific electronics engineer in the Advanced Photonics Technologies Branch who spearheaded the partnership with Ames. “Some of those problems would be cooperative communication and ad hoc networks, time division multiple access (TDMA) message scheduling, or algorithms for data storage and energy data retrieval with underwater autonomous robots — optimization-type problems.”

Efficiently controlling and using a group of unmanned vehicles, and forecasting the outcomes of a battle are also challenges that could be solved faster and with better outcomes using quantum computing.

A group of 20 SSC Pacific scientists are receiving training on the D-WAVE machine this summer, but in the meantime Ames researchers will serve as experts and mentors.

“What we still need to figure out is how to map our data onto the quadratic unconstrained binary optimization architecture format, and NASA Ames’ personnel are excellent at figuring out how to do that and map it into the D-WAVE machine,” Ptasinski said.

This collaboration is a result of SSC Pacific’s inaugural Technology Scout Tour, which enables scientists at the Center to go out to industry to gain insight into rapidly evolving technology areas, identify defense uses for that technological capability, and pinpoint research gaps on which neither the Defense Department nor industry are concentrating.

The first cohort of the groundbreaking SSC Pacific Technology Scout Tour kicked off in February 2016. Three researchers focused on autonomy, trusted computing, and quantum information received funding for two months of part-time work over four months to go to the physical hub of their research area, developing partnerships with companies, universities and organizations, conducting cutting-edge research, and then bringing that knowledge back to SSC Pacific to match industry solutions with defense needs.

From left to right, Dr. Rupak Biswas, Director of the NASA Ames HPC Center, and  SSC Pacific scientists Fernando Escobar, Anna Leese de Escobar, Chester Braun, Dr. Joanna Ptasinski and Dr. Ryan Lu.
From left to right, Dr. Rupak Biswas, Director of the NASA Ames HPC Center, and SSC Pacific scientists Fernando Escobar, Anna Leese de Escobar, Chester Braun, Dr. Joanna Ptasinski and Dr. Ryan Lu.
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