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Teams of robots that don’t run out of energy

Let’s imagine a large region affected by an earthquake that needs to be combed for missing persons. Because buildings remain at risk of collapsing, this is a task that is particularly well-suited to robots. Micha Sende addressed this kind of scenario in his doctoral thesis.

Written by Romy Müller for the University of Klagenfurt. Feature photo by Romy Müller.

“What is special about this is that all the robots have the same role, in other words, no-one acts as coordinator,” Micha Sende explains. His research focuses on energy autonomy, asking questions such as: How much energy do I have left? How much energy do I still need to complete a specific task? How long can I continue to work, and when do I need to recharge? Which charging station should I head for, and which one is free at the moment?

When asked what makes this task rather complex, Micha Sende answers: “A robotic lawnmower or a robotic vacuum cleaner have a comparatively easy job. They know the territory and they usually work alone, not in a team.” Moreover, they do not have to work in an optimised way, i.e. a few extra laps around the living room are usually quite acceptable. But when it comes to searching for missing persons, it is essential that the robots work as quickly and efficiently as possible and that no breakdowns occur.

Above all, the scenario involving several robots and several charging stations had not yet been extensively researched, Micha Sende continues. At this point he also mentions electric cars: Here too, relatively little research has been undertaken to date.

Micha Sende has recently completed his doctorate. Most of the work was carried out at the computer using simulations; towards the end, the scenarios were also tested using real robots. Micha Sende is currently working as a member of the research team at the neighboring Lakeside Labs GmbH.

Micha Sende first came to Villach as part of his industrial internship for his diploma degree and later he landed a doctoral position in Christian Bettstetter’s research group at the Institute of Networked and Embedded Systems. “Self-organizing systems appeared especially captivating, which is why I focused on this area,” he tells us. He describes their advantage: “By relying on self-organization, we can build fully functional systems that can no longer be controlled from the outside due to their complexity.”

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This article was originally published on the Website of the University of Klagenfurt (October 6, 2021). Posted here with kind permission.

Offloading computation to 5G networks: Helping drones to improve their autonomous navigation

Commercial drones usually come equipped with modest on-board computing power. Consequently, their speed and agility are somewhat limited when they use their cameras like eyes to navigate in space. Samira Hayat, a researcher at the Department of Information Technology, recently joined forces with colleagues from other departments and Deutsche Telekom to investigate the effects of offloading computation to the edge of the network (edge computing).

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Panel: 5G opportunities and challenges

A panel on the next generation of mobile communication systems was held in Klagenfurt. Experts from two network operators, a chip vendor, and research institutions discussed the opportunities and challenges of 5G.

Written by Christian Bettstetter. Photos by Christina Supanz.

“5G will become the backbone of the German and Austrian industry,” Frank Fitzek states and he should know. As a professor of communication networks at TU Dresden and coordinator of the 5G Lab Germany, he has strong links to many industries and knows their problems and desires. Fitzek was one of the panelists in the public discussion round titled “5G: Opportunities and challenges,” which Hermann Hellwagner and I organized and moderated as part of the celebrations on occasion of the 30th anniversary of our faculty’s alumni club. We invited 5G experts from different fields and branches: Besides Fitzek, we were happy to welcome Aneta Baier from the Institut für Rundfunktechnik, Driton Emini from T-Mobile Austria, Wolfgang Rauter representing A1 Telekom Austria, and Thomas Stockhammer from QUALCOMM. About 75 people attended and participated in the lively and sometimes controversial discussion, which lasted over one and a half hours.

Our opening questions were: “What is the schedule for 5G introduction in Austria? What are the main technical advancements compared to 4G?” The timing of the frequency auctions is kept secret but is expected to take place in spring 2019 [see Update 1 below]. Beyond this, it seems that the schedule to get 5G rolling in Austria is rather relaxed compared to other countries [see Update 2 below: the launch came quite fast]. The main technical novelties are new antenna arrays with massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) on the physical layer and a very strong softwarization of network functions at higher layers.

The panelists emphasized that 5G is much more than a faster radio access for the general public. It is expected to be used for low-latency control tasks in factories and transport systems. The business models for such industrial wireless networks are still unclear though, which makes it an interesting field for new players.

High costs for frequencies and infrastructure will be one of the main challenges for operators. The number of base stations will be tenfold compared to 4G, and many sites require updates due to heavier antennas. There is hope that the Austrian government will provide for fair license prices. The panelists agree that excellent chances for startups will emerge in the context of 5G. In particular, mobile edge computing brings about exciting business concepts, and we might see completely new services that do not even exist yet.

“What comes after 5G? Is it 6G?” we asked. Emini and Rauter agree and state: Typically, there is a new generation every 10 years. Fitzek slightly disagrees: If we do it right, we might not need 6G but, similar to the Internet, will continuously improve 5G. Internet people do not know the concept of generations of networks; they gradually evolve the network.

Update 1 from March 8, 2019: Austria sold 5G licenses to A1, T-Mobile, Drei, and some local operators for € 188 million (Reuters).

Update 2 from March 26, 2019: T-Mobile started the first 5G network in Austria (Der Standard).