New applications for quantum computing sought in hackathons
Quantum computing may gain a significant status in the future, and many businesses have already become involved in quantum hackathons. Among other things, such competitions are used to investigate how product development can be optimised with the help of technical solutions.

Doctoral Researcher Valter Uotila has been successful in several international quantum computing challenges. In the QHack hackathon organised by the quantum computing company Xanadu, he won Amazon’s Most creative Open Hackathon experiment on Braket and finished third in the IBM Qiskit Challenge. QHack is one of the world’s largest quantum hackathons, in which a total of 16 winning projects were selected.

– The hackathon includes sponsor-organised challenges, for which no topics are announced in advance. Instead, you come up with the topics on the fly. The goal is to develop a project of your own, which will most likely fit more than one challenge. All projects are open and accessible through QHack’s GitHub page, Uotila says.

The online competition, organised for the second time ever, had a total of 3,280 registered participants who took part in coding challenges and presentations on quantum computing in addition to the Open Hackathon challenge. From Finland, a challenge was organised by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and IQM, a quantum hardware company.

– It’s a challenge to start creating an entire project from scratch. At QHack you get to see particularly well how broad-based a field quantum computing has become. Even though it still has a long way to go, businesses are already interested in potential applications, Uotila says.

Practical experience is needed for effective learning

Uotila also fared well last autumn in a crowd innovation initiative organised by the BMW Group, where his Qumpula Quantum team, established together with Sardana Ivanova, made it among the finalists.

– The purpose of the competition was to optimise the number and location of sensors installed in cars with a solution based partly on quantum computing, Uotila says.

– The idea was to find optimal points on the surface of the car to enable it to observe its surroundings with as much precision as possible. There are a great deal of potential solutions, and it would be slow and expensive to trial and test-drive various combinations. BMW wants to find out whether quantum computing offers the fastest way to calculate the best results.

According to Uotila, the BMW competition was less about winning anything concrete than about establishing connections between different institutions involved in quantum computing. He established good contacts with the organising company as well as with Amazon.

Uotila considers participation in such competitions as primarily a learning experience. The lesson learned in the BMW challenge was teamwork on a topic related to quantum computing.

– To learn something effectively, you need practical experience. Coding hackathons allow you to see the state of development.

In computer science, the number of students specialising in quantum computing has so far remained small, opening up opportunities for innovative students to succeed in competitions. The best-known hackathons in Finland are Ultrahack and Junction.

– People interested in participating should follow company advertising and mailing lists. For instance, I found QHack in a Xanadu newsletter, Uotila advises.