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Bosch and Nokia are bringing 5G robots to the factory floor

Amit Katwala at TechXLR8, London

The new generation of collaborative manufacturing robots have been freed from their cages, but they’re still tied down by wires and cables.


A collaboration between Nokia and Bosch seeks to change that, using 5G technology.  

The companies have worked together to develop robots that can be controlled wirelessly over a 5G connection. A prototype of the technology, built into an industrial pick-and-place robot, was on show at the TechXLR8 exhibition in London today. 

The advantage of using a 5G connection is that the response times are quicker, and you don’t get the peaks and troughs you would with Wi-Fi or current LTE networks.

The technology could also make robots safer. Currently, all robots are equipped with an emergency stop buttons to prevent them from harming nearby humans. But what if a human can’t reach the button when they need to?

On Nokia and Bosch’s prototype, instead of the controls for the robot being mounted on its body, they are placed on a handheld tablet that can display information about the machine, along with physical safety switches like the emergency stop button. This reduces duplication, because you don’t need to have multiple emergency stop buttons in different spots around the robot, and increases safety. “This is an immediate benefit,” Nikolaj Marchenko, a research engineer at Bosch, told Professional Engineering.

Going forward, the technology could pave the way for more adaptive and responsive collaborative bots. A previous project by Nokia and China Mobile used 5G to link small robots to a central server. They then worked together to balance a ball on a moving platform (see video above). 

“In the future, you can see these robots being on mobile platforms,” said Marchenko. “The tasks will be more diverse. On production lines in future, they don’t need to built for years, you can change it every few days. Or it could be task-based. The robot could notice that there is a task that needs to be done on the other line, and it can just move over.”

Also in future, said Marchenko, a robot could even react in real time to orders, and position itself at a point in the factory where it’s most needed. 

 

 
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