Manchester Metropolitan University

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Quantum computing solves logistics conundrum

Algorithm helps lorries deliver goods efficiently

A QUANTUM computing program designed to deliver lorries’ goods faster and cheaper has been developed by Manchester Met researchers.

A new optimisation algorithm was devised for logistics companies to calculate the best routes and times to send vehicles on the road in the most efficient way.

The code, a Quantum Annealing Optimisation algorithm, is one of the first in a new generation of optimisation techniques, which could revolutionise logistics for businesses and a range of other applications.

Quantum annealing is a cutting-edge computing system only recently developed by scientists and underpinned by complex quantum physics.

Fast and cheap

The University is now working with IT technology company ServicePower Technologies PLC, which specialises in providing software for logistics firms.

The company, which makes workforce management systems, said the algorithm is capable of driving productivity improvements and route efficiencies in field management systems.

Dr Alan Crispin and MSc student Alex Syrichas developed the algorithm to solve the ‘Vehicle Routing Problem’ (VRP). The work has previously been published as a paper in the proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man and Cybernetics.

The aim is to deliver goods located at a central depot to customers who have placed orders for those products – with the VRP optimiser minimising the total route cost.

Emerging technology

“The new optimisation technique promises to plan future services – reducing time to deliver – thereby growing sales and reducing operational costs and improving customer service levels,” said Dr Crispin, Principal Lecturer in the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology.

“It’s an emerging technology we’re using and we’ve had to undertake numerous computational experiments to prove the technique. We're working on expanding the research with ServicePower to make this applicable to the real-world market and to be used in business.

“This type of technology can have lots of applications for firms and solve a range of scheduling problems, including employee timetabling.”

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership associate is working with Stockport-based ServicePower to develop the technology. This follows on from a research contract for a PhD studentship that ServicePower has sponsored for similar work.

Patents

ServicePower has made applications for three patents covering the Quantum Annealing Optimisation algorithm.

Marne Martin, ServicePower's chief executive, said: "Quantum annealing is expected to take our scheduling products to the next level, providing the highest in cost reduction to our clients and improving their abilities to provide exceptional services to their own customers."

Wednesday, 9th March 2016