Toppan, a global leader in communication, security, packaging, décor materials, and electronics solutions, and Tohoku University startup Sigma-i are currently advancing research on the quantum computing technology of quantum annealing.1 The two companies have begun a pilot test that aims to use quantum annealing to increase efficiency for logistics.

The test, launched in October, involves applying quantum annealing to MITATE®,2 a system offered by Toppan Cosmo that drives improved efficiency and visibility in the logistics industry. The two companies will expand the MITATE system’s planning functions to alleviate the workload for vehicle assignment and delivery planning, increase speed and accuracy, shorten delivery times, and, as a result, reduce impact on the environment.

Background

The recent rise in demand for online shopping, mail order, and other forms of e-commerce is driving expansion of the logistics market and an increase in the volume of goods being transported. The logistics industry, however, is also facing a shortage of labor. The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the workload on vehicle drivers due to a rise in the delivery of goods to households and the need for redelivery when consumers are not at home. These trends are likely to continue after the COVID-19 pandemic, and logistics will grow in importance as an element of social infrastructure supporting business and daily living.

The logistics industry is also expected to address environmental issues, such as the increase in fuel consumed and exhaust gas emitted by delivery vehicles, as well as traffic congestion and other issues affecting society. Efforts are therefore underway to use artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to optimize logistics systems handling delivery planning by, for example, reducing the number of vehicles used and selecting routes that are as short as possible and avoid congestion. Computation for delivery planning, however, takes time due to the large number of requirements, such as destination, cargo type, specified arrival time, and vehicle load capacity. This results in a number of issues, including decreased accuracy and difficulty in responding to changes at short notice.

Recent years have seen the use of quantum computers in pilot tests aiming to increase the efficiency of transportation by unmanned vehicles in factories or optimize the scheduling of workers’ shifts on manufacturing lines. There is also growing anticipation focused on quantum computing technologies that can facilitate the computation of optimal plans in accordance with the complex constraints and conditions of logistics operations.

Objectives and details of the pilot test

To address these issues, Toppan and Sigma-i are launching a pilot test to develop a delivery planning optimization system. This will be done by applying the quantum computing technology of quantum annealing to the MITATE system Toppan Cosmo provides to the logistics industry. By augmenting planning functions, the objective is to reduce workload for vehicle assignment and delivery planning, enhance speed and accuracy, shorten delivery times, and, as a consequence, reduce environmental impact. The system developed will be used to devise delivery plans and verify effectiveness in terms of reducing workload by shortening computation time and raising accuracy.

Based on verification of effectiveness during the pilot test, Toppan and Sigma-i hope to accumulate know-how on the use of quantum annealing and advance digital transformation (DX) to drive greater efficiency and visibility in logistics. This includes safe and secure management and use of information on cargo weight, size, type, and packing type as well as vehicle assignment and delivery planning for pickup and shipping. Toppan’s digital technology and advanced operational expertise will be combined to advance logistics DX by providing data-based hybrid DX services to the logistics industry. Toppan and Sigma-i aim to develop a system for enhancing operational efficiency for the flow from pickup to receipt of goods and launch logistics DX solutions in 2025. The two companies will also undertake research on solutions for overall optimization based on quantum annealing technology for a wide range of sectors beyond logistics.

Roles of the companies

Toppan

In addition to advancing research and development on the use of quantum computing, Toppan will leverage the insights of its DX-related business as it aims to advance a logistics DX business by verifying effectiveness via the pilot test and considering the feasibility of commercialization.

Sigma-i

As a startup originating from Tohoku University, Sigma-i possesses some of the world’s leading quantum computing technologies and will develop and verify the effectiveness of prototype delivery planning tools that make use of quantum computers using annealing techniques.

1. Quantum annealing is a quantum computing technology specialized for optimization problems in which optimal solutions are derived from vast numbers of combinations.

2. MITATE® is a cloud-based service that drives digital transformation and greater efficiency for management operations by organizing and integrating operational flows that have become complicated due to distributed management. MITATE is a registered trademark of LAMPLIGHT Co., Ltd., a collaborative partner of Toppan Cosmo.