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How 5G can make robots better co-workers for us?

5G communications are seen as a way to get faster mobile internet speeds. However, 5G technology can offer much greater and wider capabilities than just faster streaming or quicker downloads on the go.

Scientists at the University of Technology Sydney together with an industry partner Nokia are exploring the ways 5G technology can make robots better co-workers.

Very soon we will be working in close proximity to robots and 5G technology could make that process much smoother. Image credit: Jeff Green/Rethink Robotics via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Robots in an industrial setting are nothing new. However, we are quickly heading to the new generation of industrial robots, which will include real coworking machines. Some automotive factories are already implementing this approach, in which there are no physical safety barriers between robots and people. Robots and human employees can work together on the same project at the same time, saving time, floor space and money. But where does the 5G communications technology come in?

While 5G technology does offer better internet speed, it is much more than that. The biggest advantage of 5G is a broader bandwidth, which means (in more primitive terms) that a larger amount of data can be processed efficiently at the same time. For example, it is often said that 5G can enable the internet of things, because many different smart devices can be connected to the same network without compromising the data transfer of other machines. And that’s why 5G can help robots to be better co-workers.

The biggest concern about coworking robots is safety. Because of their proximity to people they need a lot of sensors. These sensors, ideally, are connected to some kind of a central computer so that operators can monitor all robots at one location. This means that the factory of the future will have more sensors, which will have to be monitored all the time and 5G technology could make these networks very efficient without millions of kilometres of data lines. At least that’s the idea.

Marc Carmichael, the leader of the research team, which will explore 5G possibilities in co-working robots, said: “Designing collaborate robot (cobot) systems to have complex and natural interactions with humans requires a lot of sensory data and computational power. Adding powerful computers into a robot is often not possible due to cost, size, weight, or power consumption. We believe with 5G we can make powerful computing resources available wirelessly to the robot, or multiple robots, avoiding many of these barriers”. The scientist called 5G a spinal cord of a robotic system.

Will we all work together with robots soon? Well, coworking robots are more useful in some places than others. In factories, coworking robots can save some time, because people can work on one part of the product while the robot takes care of the other at the same time. For example, a robot can be installing a dashboard into a car, while its human coworker could be tidying up the wiring loom.


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