Where has 5G enabled automation to boost productivity and efficiency?

Sunderland City Council, the North East Automotive Alliance, Perform Green and Streetdrone are among a group of partners collaborating in the 5G CAL project to deliver 5G-connected, autonomous 40-tonne trucks to distribute parts, linking to many local SMEs in the automotive supply chain. This is about driving operational efficiencies and improving productivity: their vision is to develop a globally unique centre of excellence and operational test facility for Connected Automated Logistics at the Nissan Sunderland site. Similarly, Ericsson has teamed up with Einride and Telia5 to produce a sustainable, reliable and safe transport system through their autonomous, 5G-powered trucks. Dubbed the “T-pod”, the fully-electric driverless truck has been introduced into a logistics facility in Jönköping, Sweden, as part of an intelligent transport ecosystem.

The 5G MK project is integrating CAV services with smart parking at locations across the Stadium MK area, improving access and increasing site efficiency. Autonomous pods will be used for transporting hotel guest luggage and deliveries around the site. Remote technology will then guide the vehicles back to their starting position, ready to pick up the next delivery.  These services will free up employee time and increase site efficiency.    Similarly, Brussels airport is deploying 5G for autonomous ground support equipment. It is hoped that this will speed up the time it takes to turn around planes, ensuring freight reaches its destination on time.

Automation can be broadly deployed and enhanced with 5G. The 5G Ports project based in the Port of Felixstowe is using 5G to improve the performance of remote control yard cranes. This is expected to increase efficiency — cranes will be able to operate 24/7 — and safety. What’s more, the Port of Tianjin and the Port of Qingdao in China have installed automated ship-to-shore cranes that lift containers over a 5G connection, operated from a control centre. The crane at Qingdao has over 30 high definition videos, providing far greater data input to guide activity than a human would be able to process — promising greater accuracy in the loading and unloading of goods. These operations require millisecond-level latency control signals, as well as stable, remote and real-time control requirements that only key 5G technologies can deliver. The Port of Busan in South Korea has fully automated its fleet of cranes, which are remotely controlled over 5G. The Busan Port Authority expects to increase yard productivity by 40% as a result.

In the Port of Singapore, remotely-controlled equipment is being coupled with automated guided vehicles to enable full automation of the loading and unloading process. 5G allows reliable ship-to-shore communication because it can deal with large volumes of data that allows for more precise control of the crane spreaders and loads. The technology uses mathematically correct algorithms and aligned sensor systems: the end result is an increase in the number of crane lifts per day, meaning a greater number of goods can move through the port, boosting productivity.

The Ports of Rotterdam and Livorno are also exploring 5G’s value in relation to autonomous or unmanned ground vehicles. In Livorno, they are demonstrating the potential for more extensive use of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) for loading and unloading operations in the port area. It is expected that the UGVs — remotely controlled by a human operator — will cooperate by working in swarms, exploiting the technology of cloud and distributed computing. Their deployment is anticipated to lower vessel completion time, improve personnel safety and improve overall operational efficiencies. 

“5G enables prompt communication and does not distinguish between vehicles, humans and implanted sensors, as they share the same access technology”, explains Dr. Paolo Pagano. A connected port brings more vessels, more trade and an increase in sustainable development, which will open up ports to many new opportunities.

The potential of 5G in ports is summarised well in this collaborative statement from the Port of Antwerp: “Sensors, smart cameras, remote-controlled ships, autonomous vehicles and drones are all technological innovations with added value for the larger port area, which need a reliable network, preferably based on 5G.”

Moving to public roads, Ericsson has worked with Scania to develop a testbed for autonomous buses and freight lorries in urban environments. The initiative allows a human operator to remotely control a vehicle via V2N communication using a cloud-based application. This would not be possible without 5G. The network supports downlink data rates of up to 1 Mbps and uplink data rates of up to 25 Mbps; holds ultra-high reliability of 99.999 percent, and facilitates end-to-end latency of 5 ms between the vehicle and the V2X application server.  (You can watch this in action below.) 

Plymouth Sound, a bustling bay forming part of the UK’s historic south-western seaboard, is now equipped with a 5G mobile private network (MPN). The 5G MPN’s fast speeds and low latency can enable a number of use cases, not least of which is autonomous boats. This is something also being explored by the 5G BLUEPRINT project, which is looking at whether 5G-powered teleoperations can benefit from the exchange of real-time data to and from vehicles or vessels between terminals, vehicles and offices. 

Airbus has teamed up with M1 — a Singaporean operator — to determine whether 5G makes it possible to safely deploy autonomous aircraft in areas intended for drones. The Asian operator and Airbus will use telecom networks to simplify the geolocated positioning of the aircraft during aerial tests on the Singapore coast. Drones, meanwhile, can play an important role in helping to quickly navigate vast spaces and locate items in places such as warehouses or ports.

Rail freight will also benefit from automation, with 5G. The world’s first standalone 5G system for automatic train operation was deployed in Hamburg as part of DB’s highly automated S-Bahn operation project. The proof-of-concept will test whether 5G technology is mature enough to be used as the connectivity layer for future, digitalised rail operations. As part of the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project, automatic train operation (with train drivers onboard who maintain responsibility for safety) is expected to be operational by the end of 2021. Part of the demonstration will include fully driverless shunting of empty trains in an area near Bergedorf station, based on the transmission of train control information over the 5G network.