How drones can fulfil important duties thanks to 5G – A Case Study Lead: Telefónica, Unmanned Life
In the past, staff members have been relied on by warehouses and depots to do manual stock inspections, which may require scaling ladders and reading the barcodes on boxes on racks.
This procedure is not only time-consuming, expensive, and occasionally dangerous, but it is also error-prone since employees doing repeated jobs may make mistakes that cost money.
A system being tested by Telefónica and Unmanned Life combines small drones, 5G connection, edge computing, and artificial intelligence. The drones fly around the racks inside the warehouse or depot along a predetermined path. In order to update the inventory list in real-time, they employ 5G to broadcast live video of the stock to an edge computing facility. The edge computing facility then uses image recognition software. Additionally, the drone uses 5G to transmit the exact position of each stock item. In the case of a malfunction, the lightning-fast 5G network may also be utilised to swiftly cancel a mission.
- Impact and Statistics
According to Telefónica and Unmanned Life, the testing shows that 5G can provide the required capacity and responsiveness to allow video transmission from drones in a congested area. According to them, the results thus far indicate that drones can offer affordable, scalable, and traceable ways to inventory management.
- Wider Implications
The study demonstrates that drones can function successfully indoors provided they are backed by edge infrastructure and 5G connection. In the end, drones and robots connected to 5G might assist a variety of use cases, including logistics, industrial monitoring.
Drones equipped with 5G might automate a variety of labor-intensive or dangerous manual activities.
Autonomous drones with 5G connectivity have the potential to significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of stocktaking and other crucial business procedures.
In a demo facility in Madrid, global operator Telefónica and tech firm Unmanned Life are testing the usage of 5G-enabled drones for automated inventory management. In a cramped interior area, the 5G linked drones are executing automatic stock takes and carrying out other complex operations.
These autonomous drones move around the racks inside the warehouse or depot along a predetermined path. In order to update the inventory list in real-time, they employ 5G to broadcast live video of the stock to an edge computing facility. The edge computing facility then uses image recognition software. Additionally, the drone uses 5G to transmit the exact position of each stock item.
The drones must be tiny since they must fly inside, which limits the amount of room available for onboard computing power. The network’s low latency is useful in this situation, according to Kim Clement, CTO of Unmanned Life. The drone itself may be lightweight, small, and nimble since the edge facility will be doing the critical processing duties.
Kim Clement says that because these devices lack a GPU, analytics are not possible. As a result, additional computing and graphical capacity is required. “Battery life on tiny drones is likewise fairly constrained.
You want to minimise the weight of a companion computer as much as possible because payload capacity is relatively constrained.
In the case of a malfunction, the lightning-fast 5G network may also be utilised to swiftly cancel a mission. To make autonomous drone flights safer, Unmanned Life integrates the drones’ built-in safety features, such as collision avoidance, with its own control and localization software. The solution has a number of built-in safety features, such as kill switches in case of a malfunction. Despite the fact that the experiment is taking place in a private setting, Telefónica does not save the video in order to safeguard the privacy of the participants. Staff are also protected physically.
Possibility of increasing safety, lowering costs, and minimising mistakes
Traditionally, warehouses and depots have depended on workers to do manual stock checks, which may require scaling ladders and reading the barcodes on boxes on racks. This procedure is time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone since repetitive activities can cause workers to lose focus, which can result in omissions, errors, delayed updates, and eventually a loss of money due to inefficiency.
Inventory management may, depending on the situation, include dangers to one’s physical safety, such as when using large machinery or big containers. Drones with cameras might automate stock takes since they can move around a warehouse or depot with ease.
Multiple rounds of the study, which started in October, allow for software upgrades and modifications. Telefónica is improving the image recognition technology and making sure it is reliable enough to be utilised consistently. The study has completed more than 100 test flights by early February 2022.
Next steps: commercialization via widespread 5G
Unmanned Life and Telefónica are collaborating to create an end-to-end solution that will allow businesses to use drones indoors. The majority of the time, that solution will make use of the operator’s open 5G networks while simultaneously providing a private 5G network alternative. According to David Moro, “We need to be able to deploy these kinds of projects in various network environments.”
In order to implement Unmanned Life’s drone management platform for the trials, Telefónica is utilising a hybrid-edge approach, combining computer power on-site with processing power at the edge of its open 5G network. Telefónica intends to bring the platform solution totally to the edge of the public 5G network since doing so would increase its flexibility and scalability.
Telefónica might provide dedicated APNs in the public network in addition to private networks. This year, the operator intends to start testing viable solutions with a small group of consumers as a prelude to launching a real commercial offering.
It plans to use its platform to facilitate the fusion and coordination of various robot kinds as well as drones. A wide range of use cases, such as logistics, industrial surveillance, smart factories, inspections, maintenance, surveillance, emergency response, infrastructure inspection, traffic management, and crowd control, are supported by this effort.
Unmanned Life is already working on a solution for outdoor drone swarms. The interplay between the many modules that are deployed on the edge and on the device is where the true power lies, according to Kim Clement. “We are laying the foundation for future use cases that will be much more intriguing. And in this case, we did it inside the framework of an inventory management solution.”
Many more case studies will be added, in the coming months, covering even more
industries and the GSMA is asking Members to nominate innovative 5G case studies to
add to this global digital showcase.
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