Qualcomm’s new Robotics RB5 kit pairs updated AI prowess with 5G

Qualcomm announced Tuesday it has jammed AI and 5G wireless onto a new robotics hardware, software and development  platform called Robotics RB5 that is now being evaluated by 20 robot makers.

The RB5 product set with the QRB5165 processor follows by about a year its RB3 platform release in 2019 that is used by hundreds of organizations from NASA to iRobot where it is used to help clean floors.  Qualcomm boasted its earlier Snapdragon 801 chips were picked in 2016 before RB3 emerged to help power the Mars rover helicopter being launched from Earth by rocket on July 17 and expected to reach that planet in 2021.

The new RB5 processor is customized for robotics applications. It offers a 5th generation AI engine that delivers 15 tera operations per second for deep learning.  It is also focused on machine learning accuracy and includes an image signal processor with the ability to support up to seven concurrently operating cameras.  Enhanced video analytics and a Hexagon Tensor Accelerator are loaded in.

A companion module supports 4G and 5G speeds, marking the first time AI and 5G are supported in a robotics kit, Qualcomm robotics head Dev Singh said in an interview with reporters. “Robotics is a complex challenge. RB5 offers Swiss knife flexibility,” he said.

qualcomm rb5 comprehensive kit

 With 5G’s ability to lower network latency, it will be especially helpful for robotics applications in surgery and medical uses.  Currently, Qualcomm chips can address 80% of robotics appliances that require 10 milliseconds to 20 milliseconds of latency, Singh added.  Robots will also rely heavily on mmWave for industrial 4.0 applications.

“The robotics industry is growing and we’re bullish about it,” Singh said. ABI Research said 60 million robots and drones were deployed in 2020, a number expected to double by 2025.  Allied Market Research recently said the entire industry will grow in $170 billion by 2027.

Even though COVID-19 is expected to slow car sales and technology deployments like autonomic vehicle features and sales of electric vehicles, Singh said robotics is now being used and improved for autonomic food and drug deliveries through sidewalk robots and flying drones.   

Robots rely on an array of sensors to judge their movements through space and those sensors rely on efficient sorting and interpretation of data.  “As hospitals have surged, cleaning robots have been deployed,” Singh said.  “Covid has accelerated the need for robots for autonomy.”

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The new RB5 platform will enable designs with more powerful, secure and intelligent robots for automated guided vehicles, autonomous mobile robots, delivery robots and drones, as well as inventory, industrial and collaborative robots.

Qualcomm partnered with TDK and its sensor technologies in RB5. Those devices include motor control hardware, single and dual inertial measurement, magnetometer, chirp sensor, angle sensors and pressure and temperature sensors.

Qualcomm said it will release pricing for its RB5 development kit in about two weeks with commercial availability sometime in 2020. Pre-orders of the dev kit are being made available through Thundercomm.

RB5 supports Linux, Ubuntu and Robot Operating System 2.0 with a variety of drivers.  Support is also provided for the Intel RealSense Depth Camera and the Panasonic TOF Camera for depth sensing.

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RB5 is targeted at a premium tier of robotics applications, primarily in industrial and commercial sectors, Singh said.  In the consumer sector, it will support personal assistant robots and drones, Qualcomm said. For industrial, RB5 will operate in harsh conditions down to negative 40 degrees C and up to 105 degrees C, with communications via industrial protocols such EtherCAT & TSN.

The Qualcomm processor QRB5165 integrates an Octa Core Kryo 585 CPU and a Qualcomm Andreno 650 GPU. Qualcomm cited endorsements for RB5 from a raft of customers and including EtherCAT, AWS, Brain Corp., Intel, LG, ModalAI, NXT Robotics, OrionStar, TDK, Open Robotics and Tier IV.