Qualcomm's 5G RB5 robotics platform will help drones navigate tight spaces

It marries wireless, computer vision and deep learning capabilities.


Qualcomm is working on AI computing much like rival chip makers Intel and NVIDIA, but it’s sticking to what it does best: smaller devices and connectivity. It just unveiled the RB5 AI-enabled 5G robotics platform — a follow-up to the RB3 chipset — designed to be used in a wide array of robotic and drone products. The chips could help manufacturers build autonomous devices that can navigate their environments more adroitly while quickly relaying crucial information back to the user.

The RB5 platform kit is a set of hardware, software and development tools that will allow manufacturers “to create the next generation of high-compute, low-power robots and drones,” the company said. On the hardware side, it uses the company’s QRB5165 processor and Kryo 585 CPU and Adreno 650 GPU, based on the Snapdragon 865 CPU. It’s been customized for robotics applications and can deliver 15 TOPS (tera operations per second) of AI performance. It also supports 4G and 5G connectivity across most bandwidths, including mmWave.

Since the chip is geared towards machine vision and robotics applications, it can process up to 8K or 4K HDR video and 200 megapixel photos while dealing with up to seven cameras at once. On the software side, it comes with SDKs for neural processing, machine vision, localization, feature recognition and obstacle detection.

To help developers get going, the robotics development kit includes a 12-megapixel main camera, along with tracking, depth, time-of flight and other cameras. It’s also equipped with magnetic, pressure, temperature, ultrasonic, and numerous other sensors. Qualcomm has also promised “vault-like” security so devices can’t be compromised.

The tech works with consumer tech like toys and robotic vacuums or lawn mowers, but is also designed for commercial and industrial applications. The biggest potential appears to be with drones, where the machine vision and 4G/5G connectivity could be particularly useful, according to some of the developers on board. “[The RB5] platform will enable new autonomous drone experiences, such as navigating quickly through tight spaces while mapping the environment for objects of interest,” said CEO Chad Sweet with drone maker ModalAI.