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Nokia and UTS explore 5G technology to boost robotic capabilities

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A new partnership between the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Nokia will explore ways in which 5G technology can be harnessed to make robots better co-workers. 

It’s mid-afternoon at the UTS Tech Lab and a robot is navigating a small room, picking up objects and moving them in a repetitive motion. In place of hands, the robot has a specialised gripper that enables it to sort and place items, functions researchers have pre-programmed the machines to perform. 

One of those researchers is Dr Marc Carmichael, a senior lecturer at the UTS Robotics Institute. He and his team are exploring how to build the next generation of robots that will be able to better navigate a changing environment and interact with people. 

“Designing collaborate robot (cobot) systems to have complex and natural interactions with humans requires a lot of sensory data and computational power,” Carmichael said. 

“Adding powerful computers into a robot is often not possible due to cost, size, weight, or power consumption. We believe with 5G we can make powerful computing resources available wirelessly to the robot, or multiple robots, avoiding many of these barriers. In essence, we want to give robots a larger brain, using 5G as a wireless spinal cord.” 

The “5G Connected Cobot” project is a partnership with tech giant, Nokia, bringing together the research fields of robotics and telecommunications. Carmichael says this intersection of expertise is a game-changer. 

“I believe this will change the way many robotics systems are implemented in the future and move us a step closer to building robots that can act just like a friend or co-worker,” he said. 

It’s just one of the projects underway at the new 5G Futures Lab, which was officially opened at the UTS Tech Lab campus by Paul Fletcher, federal minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts. 

“I congratulate everyone at Nokia and UTS involved in this wonderful example of collaboration between business and academia; between those who develop networks and devices to take to market and those with the research expertise and insights to help take it forward to the next level,” Fletcher said. 

“I’m very pleased this joint initiative is now officially open and I look forward to seeing what will come out of it in the future.” 

Equipped with the latest 5G products from Nokia’s award-winning AirScale radio portfolio and optical and IP technologies, the 5G Futures Lab powers campus-wide 5G coverage to allow for the development, testing and demonstration of potential 5G use cases both in the lab and in the field. 

Professor Glenn Wightwick, deputy vice-chancellor Innovation and Enterprise, says UTS is delighted to be working with Nokia on the 5G Futures Lab. 

“Industry collaborations such as these allow our academics and students to work with state-of-the-art technology and real industry problems, in turn inspiring the creation of new applications and businesses,” Wightwick said. 

The “5G Connected Cobot” project will explore how 5G and Edge Computing can be used to offload the processor (brain) of a Collaborative Robot (Cobot) into the Nokia Edge Cloud, demonstrating the Cobot power and cost savings through extended battery life of the Cobot, as well as access to a much more powerful processor at the Edge to increase the Cobot’s capabilities. 

“We’re excited about this partnership with UTS and what we can achieve together,” Nokia Oceania chief technology officer Robert Joyce said. 

“Here at the 5G Futures Lab we can push the boundaries of 5G, inventing new 5G use cases for industry and consumers as well as test the latest and greatest Nokia products for our customers.” 

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