Verizon Shows Off Robotics Use Cases for 5G Networks

RealBotics CEO Chris Quick demonstrates his company's AR software that can control a robot at a 5G media event in Cambridge, Mass. Image: Robotics Business Review

May 31, 2019      

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Several companies, including many in the robotics space, showed off applications utilizing new 5G wireless technologies during a media event yesterday at one of Verizon’s 5G Lab spaces.

The telecommunications company, which currently has deployed 5G in Chicago and Minneapolis, built 5G Labs in different parts of the country to work with companies developing technologies that can benefit from 5G’s higher data speeds and lower latency. Several of the labs feature different themes – for example, in Los Angeles, the 5G Lab works on content creation, while the Washington, D.C. lab features technology aimed at first responders.

Boston lab highlights robotics

In Boston, the lab includes robotics and IoT companies, and several of the winners of the company’s 5G Robotics Challenge were on hand showing their work. The company has sponsored other challenges, including an education technology challenge, and the current “Built on 5G Challenge“, in which Verizon will award up to $1 million to companies building “the best products, service, and applications that will bring the true power of 5G to life.”

Companies showcasing products at the event included:

RealBotics: The Pittsburgh-based startup showed their augmented reality overlay for controlling a robot with 5G, which lets an end user move the robot with a physical controller and watch the movements in real-time in augmented reality. At the event, RealBotics showed their overlay controlling a Waypoint Robotics‘ Vector mobile robot, as well as video that showed the software working with an ABB industrial robot arm.

The goal of the software is to train workers on how to control a robot without them needing to learn a complicated programming interface, said Chris Quick, the company’s CEO. The 5G component lets the company deliver data quickly to a mobile smartphone app for end users completing the training.

“The fact that [5G technology] can be put into a mobile phone for us is key,” said Quinn. Getting their software onto a smartphone opens up several potential business cases for RealBotics. “Without [5G] you’re not able to do all this cool stuff with your smartphone.”

Southie Autonomy: This Boston-based startup, winner of the 2018 Pitchfire competition at RoboBusiness, was on hand showing its no-code interface for giving robots tasks for short-run automation. The system, which uses computer vision, a projector and simple programming interface, allows any industrial robot to be re-purposed and re-deployed by any person without needing robotics expertise or computer skills. Through augmented reality, an operator can show the robot what to do, and then the robot programs itself through artificial intelligence algorithms.

The goal is for end users to quickly train a robot in a task by giving it commands without needing to learn any programming or coding. By pointing a “magic wand” at certain boxes on a projected image in front of the robot, users can quickly train the robot. In their demo, Southie Autonomy showed a cobot arm how to locate a bottle of shampoo and where to place it in a box, and the software took over from there.

The company is interested in 5G technology for all of the speed and low latency needed for much of the processing that needs to take place in the cloud, rather than at the edge of the network. Since the goal is to have the robot arm be more mobile, where it could move around to different locations within a factory, having processing occur at the device would require more equipment and make the system less mobile. With 5G, the system can move around to different locations in a factory, the company said.

verizon 5g networks event UMass Lowell teleoperation demo

A robot prepares to walk up stairs, being teleoperated over a 5G network by UMass Lowell researchers. Image: Robotics Business Review

UMass Lowell: A team of researchers from the university was showing how remote teleoperation of a robot could be accomplished through the use of faster networks such as those provided by 5G. In their demonstration, they had a remote operator giving instructions to a humanoid walking robot, which climbed up and down a set of stairs. The additional speed of the 5G network provides faster response rates for the robot, which could be designed to work in search and rescue missions, or to go in areas too dangerous for humans.

Blueforce Development: The Newburyport, Mass.-based company works with military and public safety officials to combine IoT devices like sensors, cameras and other hardware to quickly coordinate operations for faster decisions. The software takes data from all of the different sensors, which can be worn on an officer’s vest, or even on a K-9 dog, drone, robot or other device, and coordinates them into a single-view dashboard for commanders. The company showed that while the system works on a 4G wireless network, the latency and resolution for video feeds is slower compared to 5G networks, which improves the quality and speed of the video being sent/received.

Proximie: This Bedford, Mass.-based company is developing an augmented reality system in the surgery space, allowing surgical experts to remotely assist other surgeons from different parts of the world. Like many of the other company’s demonstrating at the event, the company said the 5G wireless network would allow the system to more quickly send data to and from the site to allow for quicker decisions, which can be a matter of life and death when you’re talking about surgery.

Verizon announced in April that Boston was one of 20 additional U.S. cities that will get 5G Ultra Wideband service in 2019.