How a 5G-Enabled Robot Could Pave the Way for Bots in Every Home

The XR-1 is just the start.

A coffee-serving humanoid machine could signal a future of robots in every home. At Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress technology event this week, SoftBank-backed firm CloudMinds demonstrated the XR-1 Cloud Robot, which uses super-fast 5G connectivity to control the bot over the internet.

“Our mission is to have a robot in every house by 2025,” David Klinkon, director of business development and partner enablement for CloudMinds, tells Inverse. While that sounds like a tough goal, the team includes virtual bots like the Amazon Alexa voice-activated assistant under that umbrella, as well as other home management systems controlled by a digital avatar. “The avatar could be that digital robot that would be in a home by 2025.”

XR-1, a five-feet-two-inch machine weighing 121 pounds, gives a glimpse of this future in action. The bot was seen in full swing on the floor of the tech conference, quite literally — at one point its arms accidentally knocked the coffee cup off the surface, prompting a voice-synthesized “I screwed up” in response. With a tad finessing, Klinkon explains that the XR-1 could help older people with carrying out household chores and lifting up heavy objects.

The XR-1 is also getting a little help from one of the most famous machines already on the market. Pepper, the customer assistant bot developed by SoftBank, powers the XR-1’s conversational abilities. SoftBank has expressed a keen interest in household machines: it also owns Boston Dynamics, which is developing the SpotMini robot dog capable of collecting cans and helping with chores.

The HARIX cloud platform underpinning the XR-1 enables these sort of advanced conversations through Pepper, as well as full autonomous motion control. That means the bot can work away serving coffee or performing another task thanks to its eight-hour battery life, but a human can intervene where necessary. A total of 34 smart compliant actuators, built from the ground up by CloudMinds, use a compact modular design to fit into the joints. Each joint has its own IP address, which in simple terms means the machine can work like a giant network of computers. It uses lidar, 2D and 3D cameras to navigate, and a microphone array to take commands.

“On the other end of the robot, there’s a person remote controlling the robot with sensors on their fingers, VR headset,” Klinkon says. “They can actually manage and control that robot from a remote location, which is the key for 5G.”

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

This superfast connectivity, already on display in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10, enables more precise control thanks to reduced latency. A key aspect of the 5G specification is a latency of under one millisecond, around 50 times better than 4G. These networks last month enabled surgeons in China to operate using two robotic arms from 30 miles away.

“It’s so precise, we can actually thread a needle with XR-1,” Klinkon says. “You can’t do that over 4G. It just can’t happen.”

Inseego, formerly known as Novotel Wireless, is using its MiFi brand of cellular-connected Wifi hotspots to bring connectivity to the bot today while 5G is in its infancy, but the long-term goal is to have embedded chipsets.

The XR-1 is set to join CloudMinds’ existing lineup of bots, which includes a service delivery robot that can assist in hotels and a security robot with facial recognition capabilities. Unfortunately, pricing for these robots varies depending on the implementation, and there is currently no price tag available for the XR-1.