Joshua Ness of Verizon 5G Labs was a keynote speaker at last month’s New York State Innovation Summit at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York. He’s an expert in 5G, the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, and a leader in helping companies find greater value in communications technology. He’s also helping established businesses leverage emerging technologies, such as edge computing and computer vision, that require greater communications capabilities.
FuzeHub, a co-host of the Innovation Summit, has shared Ness’ keynote address as a YouTube video so that NYS manufacturing and technology companies who missed it can still learn from it. Although many 5G discussions focus on consumer applications, Ness describes the relationship between 5G and Industry 4.0, which is transforming factory floors through interconnectivity, automation, machine learning, and real-time data. “Ultimately,” he says, “we’re trying to drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Entering the Metaverse
For example, Ness explains how advancements in connectivity capabilities will enable new technologies for the “metaverse”, a term that’s been popularized by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg but that refers more broadly to “the idea that we exist in a physical space but can also exist in a digital space.” For manufacturers, the metaverse will include augmented reality (AR), an interactive experience in which real-world objects are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information.
Whether it’s with their smartphones or connected wearables, manufacturing workers will use AR to do their jobs. In some cases, this will enable workers who lack experience or expertise to perform tasks that once required highly skilled labor. That’s good news for manufacturers who can’t find the workforce talent that they need, but the benefits don’t end there. With “sensorization”, Ness says, companies “can start using sensors to bring in data and combine it with artificial intelligence for better decision making”.
“The metaverse is coming”, Ness adds, and warns that “you will have to adapt because if you don’t, your competitors will.” If that seems remote or far-fetched, consider the fate of plant tours and sales meetings during COVID-19. By making your factory part of the metaverse, your operations manager could appear as a hologram during a virtual tour and your salespeople could demonstrate a machine’s features from a home office – all without paying for airline tickets, mileage, or hotel rooms.
5G is the Foundation
Neither industrial sensors nor augmented reality is new, but 5G technology is needed to enable these advances in a practical sense. In part, that’s because 5G has low latency. Latency, the amount of time it takes for a packet of data to be captured, transmitted, and processed through multiple devices, isn’t mission-critical when you’re waiting for a movie to buffer on your cell phone. With robots and autonomous vehicles, however, high latency could jeopardize manufacturing quality or human safety.
“5G is almost like a layer that things can be built on top of,” Ness explains. That includes multi-access edge computing, which can power advances in artificial intelligence and industrial IoT. “With edge computing,” Ness says, “we can take cloud capabilities and bring them closer” to places like the factory floor. 5G technology can also support so-called dark factories, facilities where the lights can be turned off because their fully automated systems don’t require the presence of workers.
Yet, there will still be a place for people, whether it’s designing robots and automated systems or piloting a forklift from home while sitting on the couch. Manufacturers can provide more robust alternatives to digitized catalogs, too. In addition, Ness predicts that 5G networks will have “big implications” for quality assurance, logistics, and supply chains.
“Everything is changing,” he says, “and it will ripple”.