I went to Long Beach, CA this past weekend. Home to the second-busiest container seaport in the U.S., the Queen Mary and launching pad of legendary ska punk band Sublime, the city also hosts the annual Grand Prix of Long Beach INDYCAR race through its streets.
So, what does this have to do with quantum computing?
Well, not much…yet. But ML? Plenty.
Specifically, there was a lot of “getting quantum-ready” engineering, discussion and strategizing going on trackside with Zapata and our partner Andretti Autosport. Like its sister motor sport F1, INDYCAR competition happens in the datacenter and on engineers’ laptops almost as much as on the track. In fact, motor sports are a leader when it comes to technology innovation, especially data analytics. What else would you expect from a sport where 0.001 seconds can make or break a victory?
That’s a story for another day. And based on what I saw, the under-the-hood (terrible pun intended) look will be QUITE a story.
In the meantime, there was a laser focus on technology-driven performance innovation. Here are some highlights…
There’s teamwork…and there’s this:
Our goal with Andretti Autosport is to have our engineering, executive, marketing and business development teams collaborating half this well. We’re not there yet, but progress is being made every day – and especially on race days.
Andretti has chosen to find out what’s possible on the path to a quantum-ready future, and we couldn’t be happier to be heading down that path with them.
Like all good partnerships, Andretti/Zapata started with the recognition by both companies of the potential “win-win” scenario that joining together could represent. Andretti brings name recognition and a great reputation for success in motorsports; Zapata brings its leadership position in the cutting-edge technology that quantum computing and advanced ML represent.
Getting to the level of analytics that an organization like Andretti needs to gain a competitive edge is hard, complex and requires embracing the enormous amounts of data each driver generates. It would take ~14 blog posts to do this previous sentence justice, so I’ll stop here.
Like many companies, Zapata is mostly remote. We have offices in Boston (our HQ), Toronto and Nashville for employees who want to work on site, but we’re global and most of us work remote all or most of the time. That includes me, one of the few (for now) West Coast employees. So, prior to the Long Beach race, I had only met a handful of colleagues in person (at another INDYCAR race, ironically), and none of the Andretti folks I now collaborate with.
Fortunately, all I had to do was take an early morning drive to rectify that. As we all know, there is no substitute for meeting people in person. None.
Even before joining forces with Andretti, we had a Slack channel for the numerous motorsports fans at Zapata. Today we have four. So, it’s an understatement to say there is enthusiasm for the work we’re doing with our Andretti collaborators.
Here’s a photo from the trackside “pit” area of four colleagues: two of whom I work with frequently but had never met, and two others I had only met once.
One of INDYCAR’s differentiators compared to other professional racing leagues (and even other sports in general) is going all-in on a fan-friendly experience. Having been to another INDYCAR race last summer before Zapata was a partner of Andretti, I can confirm that it was definitely fan-friendly. I mean, when a random fan can take a race-used tire away as a souvenir – for free – that’s pretty hard to top.
But at Long Beach the experience was next-level. Being a partner of Andretti Autosport means access behind the scenes in a meaningful way. I thought walking around the paddock area and seeing all the cars and teams and prep work was cool, but then my colleagues and another Zapata partner took a walk down to track and even spent some time IN THE PIT. As in, during the race, while the pit crew was working. Racers walking by. Television cameras and crews. The noise. The smells. The piles of tires. The excitement. The adrenalin.
It’s one of those experiences that can’t really be described well in words (at least not by me). It’s also proven to be an unmatchable experience to offer customers, prospective customers, partners and employees.
And this is a collaboration experience with a capital “C.” While I was in pit area with a couple colleagues and some Andretti comms and client service people (and the pit crew and trackside engineers, of course), another Zapata colleague was in the mobile analytics datacenter about 500 feet away with Andretti engineers, and other colleagues were mingling near the paddock with more Andretti folks – they are everywhere! — and representatives from enterprises that are exploring quantum computing.
Speaking of being in the pit…here’s Christopher Savoie, our CEO, about five feet from the race track, give or take:
So, what is going through that headset? To inspire our work for Andretti (which begins with race analytics) he is listening to the interactions between their strategists, engineers and drivers for all four Andretti teams. These conversations are chock full of rich data like when to pass another racer, when to pit, track conditions and other real-time events that require real-time decisions.
We brought our own crew to Long Beach – one of 17 races in the 2022 season, including the Indy 500 – because, quite frankly, Andretti is a forward-thinking company, and they want to gain whatever competitive edge they can to win races. Zapata is helping them get there with our “real” quantum software platform, Orquestra®.
Using Orquestra, Andretti’s engineering team will be working trackside all season with our engineers to improve their current infrastructure and analytics solutions. We’re beginning with advanced ML and optimization work, and we’ll be increasingly using quantum techniques wherever they provide an improvement.
They, in turn, are educating us on the near-infinite intricacies of professional racing. It’s probably as fascinating for us with racing as it is with them for getting quantum-ready.
There’s nothing more real than standing atop a podium after a hard-fought victory. Also real (though seemingly unreal)? Andretti racer Colton Herta’s track record time of 1 minute 05.3095 seconds during qualifying. And even realer to me? Going faster in a car than I ever have with arguably the greatest racer of all time – Mario Andretti.
Get in on the Andretti team action
Specific to the work we’re doing with Andretti, we’re hiring to fill out the team that works side-by-side with their engineers. These roles include: Quantum Application Scientists, Sr. Software Engineers, ML Engineers and Data Engineers.
Actually, here’s a much more fun way to communicate the same message as the previous paragraph:
We’re hiring across teams
Last but not least, we’re hiring across multiple teams in addition to the Andretti team. This includes Platform Engineering, Quantum Software Engineering, Legal, Marketing, ITOps, Professional Services, Product, Quantum AI/ML, and Quantum Algorithm and Postdoc Research. Most roles are remote.
Join us and get to do fun stuff like I just described!
Sharing our understanding of the current state of AI and quantum.