CES 2020: 5G and Robotics Come to Cars, Factories, Farms

A session on 5G and robotics, moderated by Eugene Demaitre, senior editor of WTWH Media’s The Robot Report, drew a substantial crowd at CES 2020, although few in the audience raised their hands when asked who was involved in robotics. The panelists drilled down into how the advent of 5G is already and will further impact their industries, including manufacturing, agriculture and automotive. Produce Marketing Association vice president, technology Vonnie Estes noted that more and more farmers are adopting the new technology.

“5G is extremely important for us,” said Kal Mos, global vice president of alliance connected vehicles at Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi. “We look at it as a challenging environment where we need to get people to understand what will be available to them. It will take some time to reach them, especially outside the highly dense cities. We are looking for how industry will solve these problems.”

Startup RealBotics founder/chief executive Chris Quick — whose expertise is in manufacturing — noted that, “some factories are just learning about automation and robots that don’t need connectivity.” “I visit factories where they’re using really old computers,” he added. “As 5G use cases for automation become more available, it will get into factories — but there will be a lag there. That’s the challenge of the industrial world trying to take on 5G.”

For vehicles, the solution will be hybrid cloud and edge computing, said Mos. “We have batteries on board and the ability to process a lot,” he explained. “As we go into new systems, that’s when we actually start looking heavily into 5G. We’re particularly interested in the reliability of communication and low latency — and, of course, the bandwidth. As we move towards assisted driving, we need to process the data on board and, for that, we will need a hybrid model. It’s not one or the other.”

Manufacturing will also embrace a hybrid solution, said Quick. “The cloud allows a lot of computing, affordably, and shares information,” he noted. “If you have factories in different locations, shared data will go through a cloud resource. Edge computing will start to do things that will decrease the cost of automation projects which will make problems easier to solve. Examples of that are smart cameras and sensors can be applied in different places because they’ll be more affordable. You’ll be able to have mobile robots with vision systems, for example — that’s where 5G is really going to help.”

Quick also brought up the lack of standards. “It’s a mess,” he said. “Not just factories but consumer devices and healthcare, all of which operate differently. Sharing data between systems has a long ways to go.”