Research universities play an important role in the higher education ecosystem. As technology has matured, there is increased focus on developing university innovation labs for research. These labs often partner with commercial organizations to address real world problems with technology solutions. Such is the case at the 5G Innovation Lab at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.
Robots use sensors to “see” the world. An immense amount of data is being collected and processed in order for them to work. Researchers can develop algorithms to process sensor data but cannot run the robots in real time. “Collaborative robots need high bandwidth and low latency,” says Carmichael. “You can’t have a robot wait to send data, have it processed and then sent back, so the robot can make its next move. It takes a lot of power to move the robot forward.”
The Future: Humans and Robots Working Together
Carmichael is focused on how robots and humans can work side by side. “Right now, it’s too dangerous,” he said. “But we want a future where humans and robots can share tasks at home and at work. This requires more intelligence and richer collaboration.” For this use case, robots need to be deployed in real time. “5G allows us to consider putting processing power somewhere else or to share computational resources over multiple robots,” said Carmichael.
The overlap of 5G and robotics is in its early stages. “I’m not sure yet where this can go,” said Carmichael. “I’m quite excited about the hands-on experiences for our undergraduates; there’s lots of research to connect to real-world projects with our partners. I’m constantly surprised by students’ interest in technology, and how excited they get working on a project.”
This innovation research is happening against a backdrop of changing demands for higher education. Carmichael notes there is more emphasis on learning to learn rather than memorizing content. Graduating as an engineer means you have some capabilities, but “we’re faced with how to keep learning up to date, and a big factor is the input from our industry partners,” said Carmichael. Not only does the innovation lab provide a live 5G test bed for commercial partners, the lab will also serve to research opportunities within the ICT sector, such as Internet of Energy applications in a smart grid, energy storage and management, and wireless power transfer.