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Quantum Research That Could Enhance Self-Driving Vehicles Now A $6M Commercial Venture

What started as a theoretical research project backed by Lockheed Martin hit paydirt when physics professor Jordan Kyriakidis realized quantum software could be used to perfect the design and operation of self-driving cars and new aircraft.

“A self-driving car is an example of a machine that’s really an infrastructure that is going to be entrusted with our lives and our children’s lives, so it’s absolutely critical that the machine behaves exactly as intended, doesn’t have any flaws, and so our software helps ensure that, before they even build anything, when it’s still at the blueprint stage,” said Kyriakidis, now CEO of Halifax-based Quantum Research Analytics (QRA).

Kyriakidis said that such quantum software would have a similar function on aircraft, which increasingly have autonomous systems that are able to make decisions without any human input, a step up from simpler automatic systems.

“As you entrust more critical functions to integrated systems, it becomes increasingly more important to make sure that system behaves correctly and you can verify it, and that’s our software,” said Kyriakidis.

However, the new quantum software will not help resolve the ethical dilemmas around self-driving cars, such as whether or not it should sacrifice the life of its occupant by hitting a wall instead of ploughing into a crowd of pedestrians.

“That dilemma is not an algorithmic question. That dilemma is a human question for humans to decide,” said Kyriakidis.

The $6-million partnership includes QRA Corp, Dalhousie University, Lockheed Martin, and Innovacorp, the Crown corporation that manages a venture capitalist fund for emerging companies like QRA.

The deal includes a $2-million contract with Lockheed Martin for Project QVscribe, QRA’s second major tech development alongside QVtrace, a systems verifiction tool already used by aerospace and defence engineers.

The newly-unveiled Project QVscribe uses advances made in both machine learning and natural language processing, together with metrics developed by NASA and IEEE to create tools of engineers’ handling needs.

“From a theoretical quantum physics project at Dalhousie University to announcing major contracts with leading engineering innovators such as several of the world’s leading systems integration engineering firms, I’m incredibly proud of QRA and what we are celebrating at this event,” said Kyriakidis.

He was optimistic for his company’s future, saying that QRA had doubled annually for the last three years and added that they were on track to do the same again in 2016.

“QRA is an excellent example of how Dal researchers can turn innovative ideas into economic opportunity,” said Dalhousie president Richard Florizone. “It’s also proof of the power of industry and government partnerships to make an impact regionally, nationally, and internationally.”