Airbus Looks to Quantum to Save Time, Costs: Q2B 2023 Paris

Company aims to make aerospace more sustainable, safer, better connected
Berenice Baker

May 3, 2023

Airbus vice-president of central research and technology Isabell Gradert speaks at Q2B
Airbus vice-president of central research and technology Isabell Gradert. Berenice Baker

Quantum computing could be one of the next game-changers for aerospace, according to Airbus vice-president of central research and technology, Isabell Gradert, speaking at the Q2B conference.

Airbus is perhaps best known for its passenger aircraft, including the iconic A380, but it is also one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of military aircraft and spacecraft manufacturer, including Earth observation, telecommunications and navigation satellites.

According to Gradert, the solutions the company makes today have set it on a critical path toward a future for aerospace that is sustainable, safer and better connected, both physically and digitally, and quantum plays a role in achieving that goal.

“There is no silver bullet,” she said. “As engineers, we set out to design to develop future technology using existing technologies but also leveraging new emerging technologies. We see quantum as one of the most promising emerging technologies.”

Gradert said that Airbus sees clear use cases in all three

quantum pillars: computing, communication and quantum sensing. One important application of quantum computing is processing big data in quantities that challenge the physical constraints of classical processors.

“Engineers used to say that an airplane is 10,000 mechanical parts flying in close formation,” said Gradert. “Today, aerospace is much more than just the sum of its mechanical parts. It has shifted from a nuts-and-bolts business into one of the data richest and most data-dependent industries in the world.”

Airbus collects data points up to four 400,000 parameters on these 10,000 parts from maintenance centers around the world. One of the uses for this data is predictive maintenance for aircraft.

“We will benefit from quantum computing as it enables significant time and cost savings in complex problem solving compared to traditional computation methods,” said Gradert. “Quantum computers will be able to solve complex calculations in a matter of weeks that could theoretically take classical solutions millions of years. The key to controlling big data complexity is increasing computing power.”

Gradert said other complex aerospace problems quantum computing could solve include flight path optimization and enhancing modeling capabilities, for example in computational fluid dynamics, which could lead to more efficient aircraft design or chemistry challenges such as designing a new hydrogen fuel cell.

She added a note of caution, saying that despite the excitement about quantum computing, quantum computers will not replace high-performance digital computing soon.

“However, we are looking into hybrid solutions,” she said. “I strongly believe that applying the strengths of quantum and classical computing will enable high-value solutions in the future.”

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