CES Panel: 5G and Internet of Things From Robots to Tractors

Internet of Things is no longer just about smartwatches and fitness bands. At CES 2019, 5G enables ubiquitous connectivity — from tractors to robots. TechRadar mobile editor David Lumb presided over a panel of speakers from companies as diverse as John Deere, LG Electronics and Bosch. “We have a huge need for our machines to be connected,” said John Deere director of digital solutions Lane Arthur. “All our machines are enabled with 4G and we’re already moving a lot of data. 5G will enable us to do more.”

Bosch’s American Region VP of global digital business Davie Sweis noted that he’s looking at the patterns of what happened as 3G evolved to 4G. “The question is how to connect products and also make them smarter,” he said. “And how to bring that into the market 5G is enabling.” Silicon Valley Robotics managing director Andra Keay believes that the first real robot that will become a commercially available product is the house, with all its connected devices, appliances and services.

LG Electronics senior vice president of sales and product management Yasser Nafei said he looks at what he needs to put in his devices to have stickiness, in three markets: B2C for homes and phones; B2B for enterprise, retail and agriculture; and B2G for smart cities and large utilities.

Through technology and strategic acquisitions, said Arthur, John Deere has transformed from an iron company to an iron and IT company. “We are using machine learning and computer vision to improve operations,” he said. “For example, we have technology that will only spray where there’s a weed.” Sweis pointed out that 5G gives “ultra-reliability,” and Keay noted that the “killer app” can be anything from avoiding fatalities to retail inventory inside stores.

“A real, possibly transformative use case is to marry connectivity to cheap sensors and move things in the world, so it’s not so human centered,” she said.

Sweis noted that, “IoT is here without 5G.” “A lot of companies are investing heavily in building IoT products and ecosystems that can work with or without 5G,” he said. “5G is an enabling technology that will accelerate it.”

Keay said that 5G is already encouraging a great deal of investment in robotics. Arthur reports that John Deere has teams preparing for 5G from a hardware, software and sensor point of view. “It’ll explode over time,” he said. “We have a planter with 54 sensors and that’s pushing the max. We’re looking at what we can do with 5G. With more sensors, we can collect more information.”

With regard to design, said the panelists, 5G is opening up new doors. “Developing 5G products brings up design questions,” said Nafei. “The challenge with a phone is if you can put it in a familiar form factor, and how long the battery will last. Then the problem is enough deployment of the network so that people can benefit from 5G phones.” The advent of 5G will be “heaven” for small businesses, he added. “Wearables, plantables, drones — there are so many opportunities,” he said. “The key is to talk to the customer and understand his or her pain points.”

For Arthur, 5G is a dream deferred, as telcos roll it out first in urban areas. Keay suggests that one likely early deployment could be in large buildings, like supermarkets and warehouses. “Look at things where adding 5G will be a bonus rather than an essential feature,” she advised.