The focus of this work is to explore the use of quantum annealing solvers for the problem of phase unwrapping of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images. Although solutions to this problem exist based on network programming, these techniques do not scale well to larger sized images. Our approach involves formulating the problem as a quadratic unconstrained binary optimization (QUBO) problem, which can be solved on a quantum annealer. Given that present embodiments of quantum annealers remain limited in the number of qubits they possess, we decompose the problem into a set of subproblems that can be solved individually. These individual solutions are close to optimal up to an integer constant, with one constant per subimage. In a second phase, these integer constants are determined as a solution to yet another QUBO problem. This basic idea is extended to several passes, where each pass results in an image which is subsequently decomposed to yet another set of subproblems until the resulting image can be accommodated by the annealer at hand. Additionally, we explore improvements to the method by decomposing the original image into overlapping subimages and ignoring the results on the overlapped (marginal) pixels. We test our approach with a variety of software-based QUBO solvers and on a variety of images, both synthetic and real. Additionally, we experiment using D-wave systems’ quantum annealer, the D-wave 2000Q_6 and developed an embedding method which, for our problem, yielded improved results. Our method resulted in high quality solutions, comparable to state-of-the-art phase-unwrapping solvers.
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