Low-latency 5G networks could help solve a “critical problem” for smart robots
I almost missed out on the vanguard of the 5G robot revolution because I don’t drink coffee. The near miss occurred on Monday at mobile network trade association GSMA’s booth at MWC Barcelona (formerly called Mobile World Congress), where Dal.Komm Coffee was demonstrating a coffee-serving robot. Thankfully for non-coffee drinking weirdos like me, hot chocolate was also available.
After placing an order via a smartphone nearby, a robotic arm behind a glass panel juggled cups, operated coffee makers, and gently placed drinks on trays so they could be collected by waiting humans. According to a representative of Dal.Komm, the robot’s precise movement was only possible with a 5G network provided by the KT Corporation, the Korean teleco.
The 5G network supports a pair of cameras on the ceiling of the robot’s enclosure. One looks outward, keeping an eye on waiting customers, while the other peers inward, watching the robot’s environment. From that second camera, the robot has a real-time 3D picture of its own surroundings, without which it couldn’t manipulate cups and juggle orders as precisely as it did.
As 5G networks begin to roll out around the world, the lingering question that I’m exploring this year at MWC Barcelona is—what will we actually use these ultra-fast, low-latency networks for? Telecos have invested billions of dollars and the better part of a decade in bringing high-speed 5G networks to customers. Though there are many possible applications of this technology, for both consumers and companies, it’s not yet clear which ones will catch on.
For those that do, 5G is often described as an enabling technology that will spur further developments in industries and sectors that figure out how to leverage its speed and bandwidth for true commercial gain, rather than trade show gimmicks. And based on what I’ve seen so far at the show, robotics is one of the industries that could benefit most from 5G service.
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