Qualcomm is taking a big dive into robotics. At its 5G Summit event, the company announced a new robotics platform that serves as an off-the-shelf developer kit for creating autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and drones, utilizing 5G and edge AI for next-gen autonomy.
In practical terms, this could set off huge changes in the expanding AMR market and the upstart enterprise drone market. Currently, the space is dominated by a handful of robotics firms that build AMRs or drone-in-a-box solutions and lease them on an as-a-service model. A robust developer's kit and underlying robotics architecture from Qualcomm could open up the playing field, leading to more customer-specific customization and enterprise in-house robotics development.
"Building on the successful growth and traction of Qualcomm Technologies' leading robotics solutions, our expanded roadmap of solutions will help bring enhanced AI and 5G technologies to support smarter, safer, and more advanced innovations across robotics, drones, and intelligent machines,"said Dev Singh, Senior Director of Business Development and Head of Autonomous Robotics, Drones and Intelligent Machines at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Qualcomm is using the 5G rollout as its entry point into robotics. Because of the speed and bandwidth 5G affords, it will have major implications for autonomous systems. One of the current constraints of real-world autonomy is that on-board data-processing power is expensive -- and coordination across multiple autonomous platforms is highly dependent on high speed networks. Cloud-based solutions bridge the gap, but network issues have throttled development and deployment.
The arrival of 5G is expected to initiate a new phase of autonomous systems development, including enterprise drones. After years of slow movement, the FAA is signaling broader acceptance of commercial drone use, setting the table for the industry to take off in a big way.
Qualcomm has taken note, and its RB6 platform makes it a new, powerful player in the robotics market. The expansible platform brings edge AI and video processing capabilities (essential for navigation and machine vision) through the Qualcomm AI Engine, with support for 70–200 Trillion-Operations-Per-Second (TOPS).
The integration of 5G and AI makes the platform ideal for developers in industrial use cases across sectors like government service applications, logistics, healthcare, retail, warehousing, agriculture, construction, and utilities. These are all expected growth areas for robotics.
In addition to the robotics platform, Qualcomm also unveiled a reference design of an AMR called RB5 AMR, which is a small wheeled robot designed to deliver packages and handle materials.