The robotics industry is poised to be a major beneficiary of 5G, the fifth generation of wireless communication. If 5G meets its advertised median speeds of 1 Gbps, 5G will have a speed 20 times faster than 4G. Combine that increased speed with lower latency (about 1ms) and next-generation, 5G-powered robots should be more reliable and efficient.
5G, the carrier networks say, will help robots take better advantage of compute resources that enable robots to process more data in real-time, learn new skills, and better communicate with other robots and humans. Many also believe 5G will reduce the cost of robots, both commercial and consumer, by off-loading some of the processing responsibilities to the cloud.
“Higher bandwidth and lower latency enable advances in computer vision, edge computing capabilities, better localization, and other types of technologies that have been restricted by a wired connection or pared down based on their usage,” said Joshua Ness, Senior Manager, 5G Labs, Verizon. “If you can run localized computer vision algorithms so camera- and sensor-enabled robots can better understand what they see and make better decisions, that’s a big benefit to industry.”
In an effort to discover more ways 5G-powered robots can disrupt industry, Verizon and the Mass Tech Leadership Council (MassTLC), in partnership with Ericsson, have launched a 5G Robotics Challenge. The competition is an opportunity for universities, startups, and others in the greater Boston area to develop insights, new use cases and new 5G-enabled robots.
How the 5G Robotics Challenge works
The 5G Robotics Challenge was announced today at the 2nd annual MassIntelligence Conference in Boston. Individuals or teams have until December 9, 2018 to send in a submission. The 5G solutions can either be hardware- or software-focused, but they must fall under one of three categories:
- Industrial automation
- Collaborative robotics
- Warehouse automation
The winners, which will be limited to 10, will be announced January 9, 2019. Each winner will receive a grant of $30,000 and have access to dedicated 5G networks at Verizon’s 5G Cambridge and 5G Waltham labs, 5G training and access to support teams within the local robotics community to bring their concepts to life.
Ness said Verizon’s 5G Cambridge Lab will be stocked with a variety of OEM hardware the winners can innovate on. If a team wants to innovate on their own platform, that will be considered, too. Ness emphasized the challenges creators are not looking for the participants’ IP, but rather for “aha” moments.
The challenge targets academics and startups, but Ness said they won’t reject any proposal. “If a more established company wants to commit the time and resources, we’d consider them. But based on what we’re providing for the challenge – technology and financial resources – it will be most attractive for startup groups.”
The 5G Robotics Challenge will end with a “Demo Day” in April 2019, at a yet-to-be determined location, where teams will showcase their solutions.
“There’s no area more prepared for positive 5G disruption than the manufacturing industry,” said Thierry Sender, director of IoT Product Strategy and Technology Enablement at Verizon. “5G will deliver never before seen enhancements and improvements to all aspects of industry. The 5G Robotics Challenge will explore solutions that will deliver on that disruption.”
Carriers want a bigger role
“Nobody could have predicted the technologies, industries, and economies that were born out of 4G, which was an incremental upgrade from 3G. That pales in comparison to the leap in connectivity to what 5G represents,” said Ness. “Carriers didn’t play much of a role in the development of new technologies with 4G, so we want to take a leadership position and work with the external development community and realize technological advances that will impact 5G.”
As for why the 5G Robotics Challenge is taking place in Boston: “What the universities and startups are doing, they’re looking forward 4-5 years,” said Sara Fraim, MassTLC’s Director of Policy. “The ingenuity and lack of boundaries that they have will make the most interesting prototypes or projects at the end of this challenge.”
“Boston has a rich history in robotics from both academics and startups, representing a great community to which we could provide the resources of 5G and edge computing to see what new innovations they could come up with,” said Ness. “When you’re talking about robotics, Boston is where you want to be.”