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Researchers from the University of Auckland have collaborated with Spark, a leading telco in New Zealand, to explore the revolutionary potential of 5G technology in the field of industrial robotics. The partnership intends to open up new possibilities in automation and remote operations, paving the path for a more connected and efficient future.

Industrial robots are widely utilized in various sectors, including electronics, food production and medical manufacturing, due to their ability to perform precise and automated tasks. Dr. Yuqian Lu, who leads the research team at the Faculty of Engineering, recently conducted a trial to investigate the possibility of operating these robots via a cloud-hosted 5G network.

Preliminary findings from a six-month study at the Faculty of Engineering Laboratory for Industry 4.0 Smart Manufacturing Systems show great promise. Dr. Lu envisions a future in which a surgeon in Auckland might remotely perform surgeries on patients in Invercargill using tele-operated surgical robots, or fleets of manufacturing robots across New Zealand may be managed in real-time from a centralized location.

During the preliminary phase of testing, a cloud-based robot developed in the lab was used alongside a cloud-based platform to evaluate its controllability via a 5G network. By transferring data packets between Auckland, Sydney, London, Singapore and Oregon (USA) using various public and private 5G network settings, the research team analyzed network latency and jitter.

“After completing the first stage of testing, we learned that the key to achieving optimal speeds and reliability performance is to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to compensate for any issues during data transmission. What we concluded is that in the future, industrial robotics have the potential to be moved to the cloud and supported by 5G,” said Dr. Lu.

Spark's network and operations director, Renee Mateparae, believes that harnessing 5G will drive business transformation across numerous industries. She pointed out that their connection with the University of Auckland enables them to develop unique use cases and business applications, notably in agriculture and ports, by integrating machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and other upcoming technologies.

“Some of our work around Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC), private network and 5G network slicing, for instance, means you could deploy the cloud at your premises to run your automation over a dedicated network. Data transmission occurs at a shorter distance, decreasing latency and jitter, reducing congestion and delivering a better customer experience,” added Ms. Mateparae.

Nokia offered network devices and private network equipment, while Spark provided public network access and cellular network expertise. The trial was funded by the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge.

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