As the combination of 5G and autonomous technology looks to transform transportation and production in many venues, the early adopters include automakers’ warehouses and production facilities.
In a recent example, BMW Group announced in a June press release that it has partnered with several other organizations in a pilot program in which the autonomous forklifts in a factory are controlled by computing done in the cloud and delivered via 5G.
In this research project at a BMW plant in Germany, self-driving forklift trucks are loading and unloading trucks and managing a block storage facility. Cameras integrated into the forklifts combine with calculations done in the cloud using 5G to control the vehicles. The vehicle’s coordinates are determined within millimeters.
“5G, the fifth generation of mobile communications, is more than just an incremental improvement in existing standards,” Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs Hubert Aiwanger said in the release announcing the pilot program. “In addition to significantly higher data rates, it also enables billions of machines to be connected and transmit data in near real time.”
Speeding Reaction Times of Robots
Mobile carriers and others have noted the potential for autonomous equipment powered by 5G for use in warehouses and production facilities.
Last fall, AT&T and Ford Motor Company announced that they were outfitting one of the automaker’s assembly plants with a private 5G network using the wireless carrier’s Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) technology.
In the Ford plant, this setup is designed to deliver faster processing times and better connections for phones and tablets used on the production line, help automated robotics and machinery make better decisions and have faster reaction times, and enable faster wireless delivery of vehicle software updates.
“With this collaboration, we’ll help Ford unlock the potential of 5G helping to build the truck of the future,” Rasesh Patel, who was then chief product and platform officer at AT&T Business, said in an October press release announcing the project at the plant that builds Ford’s all-electric pickup truck.
When describing the newly announced BMW Group pilot program, the German automaker said the mix of 5G and autonomous technology can deliver a number of benefits to those in the supply chain.
For one thing, with optimal control of forklifts by calculations done in the cloud, there will be less downtime for vehicles together with greater performance and efficiency in the logistics system.
In addition, with 5G enabling real-time connectivity between machinery and equipment, the computing hardware no longer must be installed in the vehicles — it can be in the cloud.
“With this pilot project, BMW Group Plant Landshut is setting a new benchmark for the intelligent, connected factory,” Site Manager Dr. Stefan Kasperowski said in the release. “…Behind the project is the aim of fully connected production, in which autonomous transport systems, logistics robots and mobile devices seamlessly communicate with one another and with the control system.”