The Barista Robots at MWC 2019 Offer an Exciting Taste of 5G-Powered Robots

The mobile world is in the midst of a wireless broadband transition. High-speed 5G technology is said to make mobile browsing lags a thing of the past. But by addressing the latency shortcomings of 4G, 5G will accomplish more than beaming Fortnite to your iPhone, it will also help engineers think bigger, from developing connected cars to making more full-service robots commonplace. To drive this point home, several high-functioning robots were on display at MWC 2019.

The thesis is that once 5G networks are up and running, mechanical arms and humanoid robots will achieve much greater precision, be better able to interact and collaborate with other machines, and able to process more complicated and nuanced pieces of audio and visual information. That’s because the fifth-generation of broadband is supposed to enable machines to receive and process both exponentially more data, significantly faster. Two companies in particular used their time at MWC 2019 to demonstrate what some of these 5G-enabled robots are capable of.

Korean coffee brand, Dal.Komm Coffee showed off its robot server — Beat — and used it to pass out java to exhibition-goers. Chinese robotics company INNFOS also introduced the world to a barista-bot, XR-1, a lifelike robot that passed out coffee, danced, and showed off its dexterity by threading a needle. Robots, though they are capable of super-human feats, remain quite clumsy. But thanks to 5G, similar demonstrations of robotic finesse could be on every street corner thanks to the bandwidth and latency improvements that 5G will provide.

5G Robots: How Beat Works

While Beat and XR-1 look strikingly different, their 5G “brains” are virtually identical.

Beat gathers information from the outside world using an array of cameras inside of its enclosure and a real-time 3D model of its surrounding area. XR-1, on the other hand uses a myriad of on-board cameras, microphones, and sensors — including a 2D-facial recognition camera on its forehead — as well as an obstacle avoidance camera on its hip.

The XR-1's detailed components.
The XR-1's detailed components.

Instead of having a built-in brain, both robots make use of cloud computing to process all of the information they gather. That means they send data to a computer somewhere else in the world to be digested, which then sends it back to them causing them to react, take orders, and make your coffee.

5G networks would allow both beat and XR-1 to transfer and receive ten times more data per second with drastically reduced delay. According to IEEE Spectrum, 5G would offer the robot data transfer rates of 10 gigabits per second compared to the today’s 1 Gbps. Couple that with almost no latency and we’ve got some speedy-thinking robots on our hands.

Latency is the millisecond delay that happens before a computer transfers data. Current estimates suggest 5G will enable latency of 1 ms compared to 4G’s 30 to 70 ms delay. That means Beat and XR-1 will be able to send a receive data almost instantaneously if predictions are accurate. This would allow it to simultaneously take orders while putting the finishing touches on a foamy coffee drink.

Why This is Only the Beginning

The introduction of 5G will serve humans information faster than ever, but it’ll also let us quickly relay an increased amount data to the service robots of the future. That effectively takes them one step closer to mimicking the human brain’s ability to process an incredible amount of stimuli in real-time. Barista bots are just one example of what this tech is capable of making a reality.

Household robots that complete chores and cook meals are next, as well as care-taking bots that help take care of children and the elderly. No matter what kind of data the robots are gathering 5G allows them to process it faster than was previously possible, making them more versatile and responsive than ever before.