Googly-eyed robots are actually an important 5G and edge computing benchmark

Edge computing and 5G are making autonomous mobile robots more practical in brick and mortar stores.

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AT&T is partnering with retail robotics company Badger Technologies to test how 5G networking can accelerate retail automation. Badger makes autonomous mobile robots that monitor shelves in grocery stores to identify out of stock or inappropriately shelved items.

Badger plans to roll out its robots in more than 500 North American retailers over the coming years, including Giant, Martin, and Stop & Shop stores.

See: What is 5G? The definitive guide to next-generation wireless technology 

The problem is that mobile robots put a heavy networking strain on retailers' Wi-Fi networks, which may also be used for vital functions like payment processing. One promising answer on the horizon is 5G networking.

"5G is an important next step to helping ensure shared visibility across critical inventory, POS and operational systems," said Tim Rowland, CEO of Badger Technologies. "Working with AT&T enables us to better support our retail customers by delivering information faster to increase store efficiencies, improve customer service and boost profits."

In general, 5G is being talked about as a game-changing technology in the robotics industry. It should remove longstanding networking barriers to distributed robots in spaces like construction and infrastructure inspection, where network speed and reliability are paramount. 

Through the AT&T Foundry, the companies are testing a multi-access edge computing arrangement utilizing AT&T's 5G connectivity. Edge computing combined with 5G should provide end users with lower latency and higher throughput, more seamlessly enabling the capture and processing of large volumes of shelf data, which retailers can then use to make smart inventory decisions.

"In-building cellular solutions, including 5G and edge computing, are critical drivers of digital transformation for retailers," said Mo Katibeh, Chief Marketing Officer, AT&T Business. "These technologies will eventually equip robots with both the compute power and lower latency needed to increase revenue, improve the in-store experience, and elevate employees to assist customers better. Badger Technologies' robots can help retailers make sure they have products in stock and the right place, increasing customer satisfaction. That leads to increased revenue. That's the power of data."

Hyper-local data processing with edge computing, wherein distributed computation and data storage is moved closer to the end-user than a traditional cloud setup, should drastically improve latency issues and may give Badger Technologies more control over how data travels within stores and outside of stores, addressing important security concerns.