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Friday, May 24, 2024

Qualcomm Launches 5G Platform for Robotics and Drones

Continuing its efforts to drive digital transformation in robotics and intelligent machines, Qualcomm introduced its Robotics RB5 platform aimed at advancing AI and 5G for next generation robotics, on June 17. 

Qualcomm Inc., is the largest employer in San Diego with more than 37,000 employees globally and brought in $24.3 billion annual revenue in 2019. 

Dev Singh, senior director of business development and head of robotics, drones and intelligence machines at Qualcomm Technologies, said the company has powered millions of robots to date. 

Over $60B in R&D Invested

“With Qualcomm we spent, year-on-year $5 billion in research and development on wireless communication technology, AI, and compute. Cumulatively, since Qualcomm has been in inception, we’ve spent over $60 billion in R&D alone,” said Singh. “The result of that is technology like 5G and AI through the research of LTE, 4G and 5G. These technologies are being brought to areas like robotics thanks to this Qualcomm innovation engine that we have today.”

Long-term, the tech giant is betting that factories of the future will be “reconfigurable”, “lights out” enabled with massive connectivity, and Robotics RB5 will play a major role in that, Singh said. 

The company’s latest platform gives robotic operators and manufacturers the ability to combine high-compute, lower power usage and flexibility to commercialize their vision.

Tapping into both 5G, AI, camera technology, and computer vision capabilities, the company believes it will transform not only robotics, but the future of factories, warehouse and fulfillment centers, First mile and last mile deliveries and Logistics.

Over the years, mobile technologies have been instrumental in addressing diverse robotics challenges in the consumer, commercial and industrial spaces. 

Built for businesses and enterprise, the company has provided solutions to more than 11,000 customers across multiple Internet or Things (IoT) segments in total. 

Customers that use its robotics chipset include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is using their processor to power the Ingenuity Helicopter launching to Mars in July 2020 and Uber eats, who is using its technologies to prototype delivery robots. 

With the Qualcomm Robotics RB5 platform, Qualcomm hopes to accelerate growth in a wide array of robotics segments such as automated guided vehicles (AGV), autonomous mobile robots (AMR), delivery robots, industrial robots and drones.

An emerging segment in the Internet of Things (IoT) sector, the global robotics technology market has a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13% from 2020 to 2027.

COVID-19 Accelerating Robotics Need 

San Diego’s Brain Corp., a Qualcomm incubated startup which powers intelligent floor care machines, has seen an acceleration in adoption for robotics due to the global pandemic. 

Phil Duffy, VP of Product of Brain Corp said, the coronavirus has caused a significant uptick in cleaning robotic usage over the past three months. 

“During the COVID-19 period, we are seeing an 18% pickup of usage compared to the same period last year, including a 24% year-over-year increase in April from our customers,” Duffy said. “For example, hospitals are slammed as they are trying to keep everyone to a minimum. In addition to janitorial staff, nurses are now performing similar tasks in a lot of these spaces. This scenario is where robots really provide an advantage and allow nurses to go back to doing the critical work they are being paid for.”

To date, Brain Corp’s products have autonomously cleaned over 10 billion square feet and have deployed or enabled over 10,000 robots. The company serves a number of large markets including major retailers, schools, malls, airports and commercial office spaces around the globe.

10 year Life Span 

Approximately, 60 million robots and drones will be deployed this year and that number is predicted to double by 2025, according to ABI Market Research conducted in 2019. More notably, robotics technology industry size is projected to reach $170 billion by 2027.

“We are very serious about the industrial market,” said Singh. “The life cycle of our product is 10 years and we support industrial grade temperature. When somebody wants to make this into a final product, they have different choices to be able to do that. For example, you could use our kit, a system-on-module (SOM), or you can use a chip-on-board design. And that’s something that our competitors don’t do.”

So far, Qualcomm has several leading companies that have endorsed the Qualcomm Robotics RB5 platform. In addition, they have more than 20 early adopters who are in the process of evaluating the solution.

A total of 30 plus ecosystem players are developing hardware and software to enable various robotics applications. The companies include AlwaysAI,, Dronecode, GlobalEdge, Intel RealSense, Panasonic, Pilot.AI, and Shoreline IoT. 

Quicker Approvals from FAA

Due to COVID-19, drone manufactures and makers of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are receiving quicker approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

As a result, everything from on-demand food delivery to improved elderly assistance to around the clock autonomous drone security is now being made possible at a much higher rate.

“Drones are enhancing human life and coming in handy in this time of pandemic,” said Singh. “For example, we have proof points for drone delivery in Florida, where CVS is delivering medicine to elderly homes because they don’t want them to go into their stores during the spread of COVID. CVS was able to make it safer by drone delivery, so at the end of the day, we think it will only enhance human lives moving forward.”

In 2019, local startup ModalAI partnered with San Francisco-based Uber Eats for a pilot program delivering McDonalds meals by aerial drones and robots, exclusively in San Diego.

The 15-person company was spun out of Qualcomm in 2018 and uses the Snapdragon processor to power its autonomous drone devices. 

Other recent drone pilot programs in the region are the Chula Vista police department and NXT Robotics who are testing out potential security robots with San Diego airport and port.

Doubling Down on Adjacent Businesses

Qualcomm’s overall goal with this product is to be a viable player in the IoT space, providing longevity and support to customers, its 10 year life span guarantee will hopefully ensure that. 

“In mobile phones, design cycles are much shorter with new phones coming to market every 6 to 12 months,” said Singh. “But in the robotics and intelligent machines space, the product life cycle is much longer.”

Qualcomm is doubling down on its adjacent businesses including automotive, IoT, and now robotics because that is where the future is headed, said Singh.

Today, the volume of chipsets being sold in the robotics space is nowhere near as significant as Qualcomm’s mobile chipset business but the nascent business unit is seeing steady growth. 

“We are really excited about this new offering because it’s the world’s first AI and 5G offering that brings new cutting edge technologies like 5G and AI,” said Singh. “Qualcomm put billions of dollars into R&D and now we are leveraging this technology and making it accessible to the robotics community. It’s very significant.”


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