Hybrid classical-quantum computing framework empowers intelligent surfaces for wireless environments


Eleanor Wyllie

Grainger College of Engineering ECE Professor Zhen Peng is combining classical and quantum computing to optimize intelligent surfaces that will change the landscape of wireless signals.

In a traditional wireless environment, the transmitter (such as a radio) emits a signal via electromagnetic waves. However, the waves can be blocked by walls or objects, causing the signal to weaken or disappear.

Reconfigurable intelligent surfaces (RIS) are a way of transmitting and amplifying wireless signals. Made of electromagnetic material, these surfaces can reflect signals and redirect electromagnetic waves. By incorporating these surfaces into building facades, walls or windows, we can redirect wireless signals to bypass potential obstacles, amplifying the signal and improving the energy efficiency of wireless networks. 

Zhen Peng
Professor Zhen Peng

The challenge is rapidly optimizing these intelligent surfaces to make them into the ideal configuration for reflecting wireless signals. Peng’s hybrid approach uses both quantum and classical computing to achieve this. Peng explains, “We rely on the traditional strengths of classical computing for learning and quantum computing for optimization solutions.”

Quantum computing algorithms are able to quickly find the optimal solution for intelligent surfaces using quantum mechanics to calculate the probabilities. Classical computing uses machine learning to discover the intended receiver location. In other words, quantum computing tells us how to optimize the intelligent surface in order to redirect the signal, and classical computing tells us where to send the signal. 

Peng’s team now have reached a milestone in their research: they have validated this hybrid framework with successful laboratory experiments. Their next step is expanding the scale and incorporating different functions into the surfaces, such as signal focusing – meaning that the signal can be confined to certain areas.

An electromagnetics specialist, Peng has expanded his research domain to explore the possibilities of combining electromagnetics with wireless and quantum knowledge. Until recently, his research focused on computational and theoretical electromagnetics, with limited opportunities for practical experiments.

“In a computer simulation, everything is perfect, but when you move to a real-life scenario there are many surprises,” Peng comments. “By complementing my research with experimental work, I significantly broaden my understanding of what the real wireless and electromagnetic environments look like.” 

This project is supported by Nokia and a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. Peng’s team is collaborating with fellow Illinois ECE Professor Thomas Moon, Professor Gabriele Gradoni at the University of Surrey,  and Dr. Amitava Ghosh and Dr. Fred Vook at Nokia Standards in Naperville Illinoia. 

As part of this project, Charles Ross, one of Peng’s PhD students, was honored with the Best Student Paper Award (2nd prize) at the 2023 IEEE MTT-S International Conference on Numerical Electromagnetic and Multiphysics Modeling and Optimization (NEMO’2023).

Read more about the research here.

A hybrid classical-quantum computing model
A hybrid classical-quantum computing model