Quantum Leaps

GEOINT Foreword speakers Bo Ewald and William Hurley to discuss how quantum computing can propel the GEOINT Community into the future


GEOINT Foreword 2019 promises an exciting line-up of speakers, including two individuals at the forefront of quantum computing and its potential application to the geospatial intelligence field. The GEOINT Symposium Show Daily spoke with Bo Ewald of ColdQuanta, Inc., and William Hurley of Strangeworks, Inc., who will both give keynote addresses Sunday, to learn more about their upcoming presentations.

Unprecedented Potential for PNT

Bo Ewald of ColdQuanta, Inc., is an advanced computing expert and hobby pilot.

Bo Ewald has long been part of the advanced computing industry. He started his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where under his watch it became one of the most powerful scientific and engineering computing facilities in the world. Since then, he has been involved with several high-performance computing companies, including being president of Cray Research and CEO of Silicon Graphics. He currently serves as president and CEO of ColdQuanta, Inc., in Boulder, Colo.

“In my career, we’ve provided conventional and quantum systems for companies like Lockheed Martin, Google, and NASA,” Ewald said. “And I’ve participated in several GEOINT meetings over the years, so I’m quite familiar with many of the topics and attendees at the conference.”

In his keynote, Ewald plans to give a brief introduction to quantum mechanics, including some basics and a history of the field, before diving into more detail about the potential application of a set of quantum technologies and high-powered computing for the GEOINT Community. “To borrow from Winston Churchill, ‘We’re coming to the end of the beginning’ of quantum computing. It’s really an exciting time in the field,” he explained.

Ewald detailed the use of quantum devices for advancement in positioning, navigation, and timing. “With quantum technology, you can create devices that provide more accurate timing than we have today, even more precise than the NIST-F1, the cesium fountain atomic clock in Boulder, Colo.,” he said. “This new clock and technologies will be so sensitive that we would be able to create inertial guidance systems that don’t rely on any outside time keeping.”

Another breakthrough on the horizon is what Ewald terms “quantum positioning systems.” He explained, “It’s like GPS without the satellites, and it can be made personal. The first models will be larger, a couple of feet by a couple of feet (which can fit on an aircraft carrier). But eventually, we think we can shrink the technology to what would be as ubiquitous as the technology in your cellphone.”

Ewald is looking forward to attending this year’s conference to refresh his knowledge of state-of-the-art technologies and to see what GEOINT areas quantum technology can fit into or build from.

But Ewald isn’t completely consumed with his work. In his spare time, he’s a pilot. “I’ve been flying for the past 40 years, and I still love it,” he said. “I fly some old airplanes—military trainers used from WWII up until the 1980s.” He also owns two biplanes, with which he has completed a few cross-country flights. “You can only travel about 250 miles before needing to stop for gas, and their top speed is about 70 knots,” he explained. “So, it takes a few days to make the trek. Whenever you stop, a crowd comes out to greet you.”

Making Quantum More Accessible

William Hurley, known to most as “whurley,” aims to make the dense subject of quantum computing more accessible.

William Hurley, known to most as “whurley,” is founder and CEO of Strangeworks, Inc. Beginning his career at Apple as a research and development engineer, whurley had an extensive tenure in tech startups before settling down in Austin, Texas. He is also chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Quantum Computing Standards working group and helped write one of the most popular books on quantum computing, Quantum Computing for Babies, which is an introductory overview on the subject for children and adults alike. This will be whurley’s first time attending the GEOINT Symposium.

Quantum computing on the surface seems rather daunting. But access to the technology and building the community is what whurley hopes to encourage. Strangeworks provides a platform that brings all of the tools, hardware, and framework options together in an industry that has previously been siloed from one hardware option to another. The company makes the dense subject matter more easily available and understandable for those who wish to learn and explore all things quantum.

“We have multiple software frameworks that touch multiple hardware,” whurley explained. “Everything is built into one place and is always current, no updates necessary. You can pull code and start experiments on your own—it really is an accelerator for getting into the quantum space.”

During his keynote address, whurley plans to share with the audience what he thinks can and needs to be done to advance the state of quantum computing today, with some relevant examples and analogies included for context. He also wants to explore the current state of the technology and what can be done to utilize it.

“Quantum computing should be of interest to anyone who has large amounts of information to process or computationally complex problems to solve,” whurley said. “Using quantum computing in an area like geospatial intelligence, this opens up a new era of new technologies that have been considered almost impossible in the past, to now be possible by a variety of agencies.”

The potential of unlikely discoveries through agency collaboration is something whurley hopes audience members will consider. His goal is to be an “honest broker” of the current state of the technology as well as the potential for incorporating quantum computing into existing geospatial fields.

“Rather than the hype [interested stakeholders] might read about in the press, we try and make sure they get a solid understanding of where things stand now, what the realistic capabilities are of quantum computing, and how people can contribute to the quantum community,” he said.

Whurley wryly stated that he doesn’t have much time for hobbies between running a company and being a father to three boys. “But I do like to go longboarding and skateboarding,” he said. Playing music is another passion of his, with bass guitar being his favorite instrument to play. Has he ever been in a band? “I’ve made sure to erase all traces of that from the internet,” he joked.


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