Transforming industry with 5G cloud robotics
During the Renaissance, Tuscan local Leonardo da Vinci experimented with robotics. Light years ahead of his time, he designed a mechanical lion to impress the King of France. It was a roaring success. Now, the sparks of discovery are flying again, with new innovations emerging from the region – welcome to the robotics renaissance.
Tuscany is home to a thriving robotics industry and in partnership with Ericsson, The BioRobotics Institute and Zucchetti Centro Sistemi are leading the way. The former – part of Pisa’s university Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna – is a research center investigating different applications for robotics and bioengineering. The latter was established in 1985 as a software house, before focusing on robotics and industrial automation systems in the 2000s.
“I firmly believe that Italy is a nation that welcomes new technologies”, says Fabrizio Bernini, CEO of Zucchetti Centro Sistemi. “Robotics, even now in its infancy, has an important value within society and Italians are already beginning to feel it.”
The collaboration fuses Ericsson’s cloud and communications knowledge, with Zucchetti Centro Sistemi and The BioRobotics Institute’s in depth understanding of robotic systems.
By combining their expertise, the partners aim to develop robots for industrial applications that can be controlled from anywhere in the world and navigate by themselves. These ‘smarter’ robots would be able to interact with their environment in a human-like manner, identifying obstacles and working out how to avoid them in real-time.
To make this possible, the controlling functionality (or the brains) of the robots has to be moved to the cloud, in order to utilize its massive computing power. This requires the development of an innovative system architecture, which allows the robots to ‘talk’ to the cloud, via Ericsson’s network infrastructure.
5G is central to the project. In order for the robots to be able to interact with their environment in real-time, huge amounts of information will have to be transferred instantaneously. With lower latency and higher bandwidth than other forms of wireless connectivity, 5G is the optimal choice.
The future of robotics; smart manufacturing
The benefits of the technology are extensive. Smarter robots can carry out a greater number of tasks in the manufacturing process, allowing their human counterparts to be employed in other areas. This enhances safety – particularly where dangerous chemicals are involved.
Perhaps most significantly, however, smarter robots enable increased industrial automation, both in manufacturing and agriculture. Also known as ‘smart manufacturing’, the majority of production processes could be remotely controlled and monitored in the cloud, minimizing the need for plant infrastructure and dramatically reducing costs.
Wirelessly connecting machines and sensors allows industries to use the data collected to monitor, analyze and predict. The result is optimized processes and increased efficiency, making it possible to effectively implement just-in-time production and lean manufacturing.
This enhanced awareness and control of processes also offers environmental benefits. Resources – such as water in agriculture – can be used more efficiently, and energy consumption can be reduced. The partners are also investigating how solar power can be harnessed by industries to power automated processes.
From the field to the factory, applications for cloud robotics can be found in a wide range of industries. And with the partnership’s research breaking new ground, the possibilities for the future are hugely exciting. Proof of concept for the technology has already been shown at MWC2016 and in the RNEA (Region North East Asia) roadshow in several Asian countries – a first for the field.
Two things remain certain: the Tuscan region will continue to be at the heart of European innovation and the robotics renaissance will change the ways industries operate.
Changing the face of cloud robotics
In recent years, robots have become increasingly advanced. And as a result, they have made the move from a concept in the research lab, to an innovative way to optimize processes in sectors including manufacturing, agriculture and healthcare. However, the emerging field of cloud robotics is still in its infancy.
The challenge posed by these ‘smarter’ robots is that they require a massive amount of intelligence to function correctly. This results in complex and costly control systems, which is slowing uptake amongst industries. Cloud robotics aims to address this issue by moving the intelligence of the robot to the cloud, in order to take advantage of its massive computing power. In turn this allows the robots on the ground to be simplified, making them easier to use and more effective.
Today’s cloud robots are able to interact with their environment and respond in real-time in a way that has never been seen before. But to do this successfully, there needs to be a super-fast connection between the robot and the cloud. Robots have been developed using a 4G wireless connection. However, the low latency and high bandwidth of 5G stretches the boundaries of what is possible; and it is these possibilities that Ericsson, Zucchetti Centro Sistemi and The BioRobotics Institute are exploring.
The partners combined knowledge of mobile and fixed networks, data processing, data analytics and robotics, as well as Ericsson’s capability of working in synergy with top academic and industrial partners, is resulting in innovative discoveries that are changing the face of cloud robotics.
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