The 5TONIC co-creation and research laboratory near Madrid, Spain, has collaborated with Autonomously Guided Vehicle (AGV) specialist ASTI Mobile Robotics to launch a series of tests that demonstrate 5G technology could be used to drive AGVs around large factories without the need for pre-set routes or tracks to follow.
The vehicles would be programmed with a delivery location for a component and would then travel to the destination by the shortest route around the factory – automatically avoiding any obstacles and blockages along the way. Even the smallest vehicle being tested is capable of transporting parts weighing up to 100 kilograms, while the larger vehicles could contain loads of several tons.
At the moment, AGVs travel pre-set routes controlled by a microcontroller inside the vehicle. In tests, 5TONIC and ASTI have been able to show that a wireless connection to a centralized controller can deliver the same level of performance with greater flexibility and very high reliability thanks to the low latency of the signal.
Based on the results of the trials carried out so far, David Del Val, Chairman 5TONIC and CEO Telefónica R&D, said: “We believe that only a 5G network makes this type of advance possible. It delivers the speed of signal, the ultra-low latency and high reliability required, and its network slicing capabilities mean that other services within the factory and surrounding area are not compromised in any way.”
The showcase demonstration was delivered using advanced 4G technology within the 5TONIC test facility – including some 5G features that are already supported by the Ericsson, CommScope and Saguna infrastructure used in the trials. These include high quality uplink and downlink connections, Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and prescheduling to reduce latency, as well as mechanisms to reduce inter-cell interference in order to control and guide the ASTI vehicles efficiently and safely.
CommScope demonstrated high performance radio connections as well as cell virtualization for enhanced spectral efficiency, a novel C-RAN architecture and Ethernet-based fronthaul. These features enable high capacity in a factory environment with minimum interference and smooth mobility.
Saguna provided the MEC Edge-Cloud platform enabling the AVG application to operate in the access network and benefit from the ultra-reliable low latency communication environment. Fully compliant with the ETSI MEC standard and 3GPP 5G specifications, this MEC platform simplifies & accelerates development, deployment, management and automation of edge cloud platforms and edge applications.
Ericsson, on its part, deployed a full virtual EPC infrastructure that allows Network Slicing capabilities, and an eNodeB, which is based on the Ericsson Radio System that provides High Band Width by means of High Order Modulation Schemes – as well as latency reduction features such as pre-scheduling which drive the way to support future 5G use cases. The combination of these two technologies allowed end to end latencies as low as 25ms average which is mandatory for the autonomous driving of the AGV’s.
“A full 5G signal will also give the accuracy required to independently control several AGVs moving in very close proximity to each other– potentially within just a few millimetres,” Azcorra added. “In addition, it should allow us to incorporate new sensors to help the guidance of vehicles that require much higher bandwidth, like those with LIDAR sensors or high definition video cameras on board.”
The 5TONIC co-creation laboratory was founded in 2016 in Madrid by Telefónica and IMDEA Networks Institute, a specialist technology research organization with strong links to Madrid’s Carlos III University. The university itself is one of eight other companies that have since become members of the 5TONIC project, and the laboratory was recently awarded Digital Innovation Hub status by the European Commission.
The laboratory’s mission is to collaborate with industry partners to ‘co-create’ 5G applications and business solutions for the IoT, Industry 4.0, and other sectors such as healthcare, tourism, and transport. The full list of member companies now participating in the 5TONIC project are its two co-founders Telefónica and IMDEA Networks Institute; as well as Ericsson, Intel, Commscope, Madrid’s Carlos III University, Cohere Technologies, InterDigital, Altran, and Red Hat.