Qualcomm launches RB5 robotic platform, aims to expand industrial, commercial deployments

Qualcomm's bet is that its robotics unit can expand its total addressable market by melding robotics, Internet of Things, and 5G.

Qualcomm is launching the RB5 robotics platform and new robotics developer kit to speed up industrial applications as well as infuse them with 5G connectivity.

The company four years ago made a big pushing into robotics with the aim to leverage its connectivity hardware and research and development and build out its business-to-business efforts. Qualcomm's strategy revolved around building a platform that could apply to $200 toy robots as well as $2 million industrial robots, said Dev Singh, head of robotics, drones, and intelligent machines at Qualcomm.

"In the field, we have millions of robots powered by Qualcomm technology," said Singh, who added that NASA's latest Mars robot launching July 17 has Snapdragon 801 on-board the rover.

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Typically, robot makers have cobbled together CPUs, GPUs, and components and integrated them. Qualcomm is advancing industrial robots by integrating systems on a chip, SDKs, cameras, AI processors, and 5G.

Qualcomm is targeting a robotics industry growing rapidly. ABI Research estimates that 60 million robots were deployed in 2020 and that tally will double by 2025.

The RB5 platform builds on 2019's launch of RB3, which will remain in the portfolio and is being deployed. Qualcomm said it had more than 20 early adopters to evaluate the RB5 platform. In addition, there are more than 30 ecosystem partners such as Autocore, Canonical, DeepEdge.ai, Fractal.ai, Intel RealSense, Open Robotics, Panasonic, and Shoreline IoT developing hardware and software for robotics applications.

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Key points about Qualcomm's RB5 robotics platform:

  • Qualcomm QRB5165 processor of Qualcomm RB5 Platform integrates Octa Core Qualcomm Kryo 585CPU, Qualcomm Adreno 650 GPU, multiple DSPs (compute, audio, and sensor) and ISPs. 
  • Includes Qualcomm Spectra 480 Image Signal Processor (ISP). 
  • Flexible chip-on-board designs and an option for extended lifecycle support until 2029.  
  • 15 TOPS high-performance heterogeneous computing at ultra-low power consumption.
  • 5th generation Qualcomm Artificial Intelligence Engine for on-device machine learning.
  • 8K video, 4K HDR, 200MP photo and 7 camera concurrencies.
  • Dedicated Hexagon Tensor Accelerator.
  • Secure processing unit.
  • 5G, LTE, CBRS, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Operates in the temperature range of -40C and 105C.
  • Supports industrial protocols such as EtherCAT and TSN.
  • Robotics Vision, FastCV Computer Vision, Neural Processing SDKs, and support for Linux, Ubuntu, ROS2, and AWS RoboMaker. Qualcomm is also working to build a software ecosystem around its robot platform.
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As for the market, Qualcomm's Singh said the company is focused on all aspects of the robot market but said the growth for the moment revolves around "robots solving problems."

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated deployments for commercial markets such as healthcare, delivery, and warehouses. "Service robots are growing exponentially with industry 4.0 a little slower," he said. "As the 5G rollout happens it will be deployed in the factories of the future."

Singh isn't kidding about the service robot boom. Consider a few recent headlines:

RB5 is aimed at industrial markets such as logistics, manufacturing, construction, and agriculture as well as commercial use cases in hospitals, security, retail, package delivery, and personal assistants.

What Qualcomm is ultimately going for is connecting industrial robots with 5G, so they won't be tethered for connectivity. That move will enable manufacturers to adjust factories based on shifts and be nimbler.

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