Image may contain: construction crane

These factory robots can lead the way into the future of 5G

Maybe it wasn’t humans supposed to be the early adopters of 5G.

At Bosch Rexroth in Bavaria, wheeled robots that zoom between production machines and robot arms and help lift and connect components have an unusual new function: 5G modems.

The Bosch department, which sells advanced production equipment, sees 5G as a big future trend – not just for games or super-fast movie downloads. The company has developed a modular production line in which every device as well as high-precision power tools are connected via 5G.

The new wireless standard may not seem convincing to smartphone users yet, but it is gaining followers in some factories, office buildings, and remote workspaces for good reason. 5G promises insanely fast download speeds – up to 10 gigabits per second, roughly 20 times as fast as current networks – that could provide smartphones and other mobile devices with virtual reality.

However, the highest 5G speeds only work with some types of transmitters, and it will take time for cellular operators to set up their networks. This means inconsistent and inconsistent performance for 5G smartphones.

However, within a factory or warehouse, a private wireless network can guarantee coverage. The new standard also promises latencies of just one millisecond compared to around 50 milliseconds for current networks, as well as high reliability and the capacity for many thousands of devices to connect simultaneously.

The WIRED guide for robots

Everything you wanted to know about soft, tough, and non-murderous automata.

Gunther May, Head of Technology and Innovation in Automation and Electrification at Bosch Rexroth, says adding high-speed wireless connections to robots and other devices allows for more precise coordination and calibration, predicts costly malfunctions and downtime, and enables sophisticated software, including artificial intelligence, which must be involved in order to make them more efficient. The company’s 5G-enabled robots are prototypes, but Bosch Rexroth plans to ship them to customers in 2021.

To orchestrate and optimize the behavior of an entire factory floor, “you want to have a constant, continuous connection,” May says. 5G includes several features that make it more reliable than existing wireless solutions, including schemes to quickly recover lost packets and ways to Forwarding data about network exposures. “We had a wireless connection [in the factory] It used to be mostly Wi-Fi, but it’s not good enough in terms of reliability, ”he says.

Reliability is, of course, a big thing in manufacturing. A few discarded packages may not matter in the office or home, but it can mean a robot missed its notice or even stalled, resulting in costly production downtime.

Private 5G networks also promise significant security benefits, as the bandwidth does not have to be shared and additional encryption can be used. A company that operates a private 5G network should be able to closely monitor all data transmitted through that network. In both the US and Germany, a center for technologically advanced manufacturing, companies can acquire spectrum rights to build a network separate from that of cellular operators.

Several German companies, including BMW, Volkswagen, and Lufthansa, are testing private 5G networks before some of the country’s mobile operators launch their own.

Other companies building private 5G networks are mining companies like Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, based in Sweden, who use this technology to operate devices remotely. Another early adopter is Finland’s Konecranes, which makes heavy machinery for the shipping, forestry, oil and gas, and other industries.

In addition to manufacturing, hospitals will be interested in setting up private 5G networks – for monitoring patients, collecting data from increasingly sophisticated instruments, and even, according to Matt Melester, senior vice president at CommScope, a network company for rehabilitation in virtual reality. However, Melester, the author of a recently published industry report on the potential of private 5G networks, says that not all businesses need connections this fast.