Next-generation mobile networks will have a massive impact on industry and society, and mobile cloud robotics will be a game-changer in how we manage manufacturing and industrial tasks.

The rollout of 5G mobile networks may still be some way off, but Ericsson researchers are already testing scenarios such as mobile cloud robotics, where the technology has the potential to revolutionize both industry and society.

As 5G networks are rolled out, traditional robots programmed to carry out specific functions will be replaced by new models connected to the cloud. These new robots will have access to almost unlimited computing power, making them more flexible, more usable and more profitable to own and operate.

Cloud-connected robots will operate on smart systems, reducing the need for hardware and requiring less power to operate.

Developed by Ericsson R&D in cooperation with the Biorobotics Institute (part of Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies) and Zucchetti Centro Sistemi in Italy, the Mobile Robotics 5G Use Case has already identified several ways in which cloud-connected robots will improve performance in industry.

“Mobile technologies will enable the robots to exchange considerable amounts of information with the cloud at low latency, which will allow the robot system to do its job at the desired performance level,” says Roberto Sabella, Research and Innovation Manager.

“The speed and extra capacity provided by 5G radio systems are essential to enable cloud robotics.”

In this 5G use case, the intelligence is located in the cloud and the robots can be operated remotely using a laptop or a mobile device. The intelligence in the cloud processes the requests, and controls the proper robots to accomplish the services. The robots act in real time and are subject to dynamic changes.

“In terms of manufacturing, mobile robots could be used to optimize logistics, shuttling materials between workcells and to or from warehouses,” Sabella explains. “The robots can move in any flexible sequence of places to take materials to the right place at the right time.

The healthcare sector could enjoy similar flexibility, with the robots shuttling specimens, medicines and other medical materials between wards and labs, pharmacies and warehouses.

By offloading repetitive low-level tasks to mobile robots, hospital staff can devote more of their time to patient care.

In agriculture, robotic mobility allows for shuttling operations between fields, stalls and warehouses. Robots can be used in the fields for operations like monitoring, spraying, pruning and harvesting, increasing productivity and reducing costs.

“The mobile robots will include only low-level control functions, sensors and actuators, with the robot and the network being linked via 5G connections,” Sabella says. “The robot can also be equipped with a video camera, sending streaming video to the remote control, providing the control system with additional information that may be useful in the decision-making process.”

The mobile cloud robotics use cases described are just a few of the many exciting 5G opportunities being investigated by Ericsson and its research and development partners.

“As we move deeper into the Networked Society, where everything that can benefit from being connected will be connected, Ericsson will continue to be at the forefront of developing, standardizing and testing 5G technology,” Sabella says.