“With 5G we will be able to pilot dozens of droids remotely, and safely”
What if from now on all heavy loads could be carried not on your back but by a robot? Already operational in maintenance services at SNCF and Renault, and undergoing testing at a Paris supermarket, as well as in Toulouse with operators in charge of power grid maintenance, logistics droids created by start-up TwinswHeel, took second place at the Orange 5G Challenge. Fitted with cameras and sensors, these small “R2-D2s” operate like autonomous vehicles. The road to the future!
The robot trolley
Depending on what they will be used for, three types of machines are available: a three-wheel standard that can tow up to 100 kg, a six-wheeler that can carry up to 150 kg ‑ both models are autonomous and designed for enclosed sites (plants, warehouses) and semi-enclosed sites (airports, train stations, hospitals, shopping centres) – and lastly, the third, which is more compact and can carry up to 40 kg but is also designed to travel on city roads for deliveries and shopping… But even though the robots are not yet authorised to travel unaccompanied in public spaces, this model exists for the moment in a semi-autonomous version: the robot must be accompanied by a guide. Currently being tested in a superstore in Paris’s 13th arrondissement, it can assist elderly or disabled individuals by transporting their shopping to their homes.
Operationally, the logistics droid follows the same principles as autonomous vehicles. It is equipped with a LIDAR (light detection and ranging), system with six 2D cameras and one 3D, in addition to a multitude of sensors. Three modes are available: full autonomy, the “Follow Me” which operates by image recognition, and remote control via Wi-Fi or 4G‑ and soon 5G!
Droids will be rolling autonomously in downtown Montpellier this summer as part of testing being done on the autonomous ADEME vehicle.
Piloting dozens of droids remotely
What benefits can the next generation mobile network bring to this project? “Although piloting a droid remotely is possible with 4G, piloting dozens of droids remotely with no latency is not: for that we will absolutely need 5G,” says Vincent Talon, co-founder of TwinswHeel, before listing the other virtues. “We also need 5G to be able to supervise the fleet of robots, to avoid risk of collision, for example, or vandalism.”
In fact, public safety is an important issue for the start-up. “With 5G and its lower latency and secure bandwidth, it will be possible to test new robot piloting apps. This will make droids as safe as possible,” explains Vincent Talon.
What is the next step for TwinswHeel? “We plan to work more on the machines’ interface and their design to create a droid that is physically acceptable by the population,” explains Vincent Talon. Indeed, just like us, the robot has an image to uphold…