Pioneering robotic arm demonstrates use case for 5G-based technology at University of Glasgow

Scotland is making substantial progress in developing much-needed applications using 5G technology, according to the chief executive of the Scotland 5G Centre.

Launched one year ago, and funded by the Scottish Government, the Centre is working at a national level to stimulate economic development and promote the benefits to society of 5G connectivity.

One project that has already been thoroughly tested and is ready to go to market is led by the University of Glasgow, which is one of three founding partners selected to receive funding due to the critical importance of its work in accelerating the adoption of 5G in Scotland.

Funding from The Scotland 5G Centre has enabled University of Glasgow to build its very own leading 5G network ecosystem, that will enable test and development of multiple use cases.  

One of the first use cases to benefit from this facility allows University of Glasgow students to conduct their lab experiments remotely, using the pioneering robot. Students managed to assemble and measure an electrical circuit using equipment physically situated in the university’s laboratory.

This is believed to be one of the first demonstrations of remote robotics being used in the higher education sector giving global reach, including between the UK and China.

Paul Coffey, chief executive of The Scotland 5G Centre, said“A robotic arm is always going to make people sit up and take notice. I am pleased to say that fine-tuning is now complete and this pioneering 5G-based technology is ready to enable manufacturing and other industries to be able to carry out complex tasks from offsite locations. The economic and societal benefits are significant; enabling factories to be more competitive in a wider market and allowing people to live in rural or remote areas while still being able to access urban or industrial centres. And the technology can be harnessed across several sectors, including construction, education, healthcare such as tele-diagnosis, tele-pharmacy and so on.”

“But this is only the beginning.  We have several other projects in the pipeline across all three founding partners, which will deliver substantial and lasting improvements in fast, reliable connectivity, particularly in rural areas.  Sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing and education are set to reap significant benefits as a result.  I do believe that 5G will transform how we communicate in all walks of life.”

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands said: “5G connectivity presents a significant opportunity for us in the years ahead, especially as we look to generate a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.  The ScottishGovernment’s investment in the Scotland 5G Centre recognises the need to enhance and widen digital connectivity for everyone in Scotland, to ensure that no one and no part of the country is left behind and we can all benefit from the potential economic and social opportunities that next-generation technologies offer.”

Professor Muhammad Imran, who leads the research team at the University of Glasgow that includes Dr Guodong Zhao, said: “The speed of digital communication that 5G provides is remarkable, and opens up many new possibilities for ‘telepresence’, with an almost instantaneous connection between systems anywhere in the world. Using direct control of robots with zero-lag connections, researchers and technicians will be able to have a physical presence in the lab from the other side of the world if need be.  Our trials included Glasgow students in China using our robots in Glasgow, as well as the other way around.

“We’re excited to explore the possibilities the 5G testbed offers us to shrink the distances between physical spaces, and we’re looking forward to adding new capabilities to this already very promising system.”

Over the next 12 months, The Centre will also continue to roll out its S5GConnect Programme, delivering the next stage of the Scottish Government’s 5G strategy with a series of hubs, as announced in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government.  The Hubs will support economic growth through the deployment and adoption of 5G services across the country, supported by a £4m investment from the Scottish Government.  The first Hub, in Alloa, is due to open by May 2021.