With 5G, AI at the edge promises a compute-everywhere future


Luxury auto maker Audi is driving full-throttle toward Industry 4.0, using AI inference and computer vision on the factory floor with autonomous robot welders that can react in real time and fix issues that may arise when welding the frame of a car. That’s just one example of how the company is moving toward realizing its ultimate vision of creating smart factories with a scalable and flexible platform that will enable data analytics, communications and processing at the edge, powered by 5G.

In the past, welding required a lot of manual intervention and inspection to ensure sufficient quality, says Nick McKeown, senior vice president and general manager of the network and edge group at Intel, which is working with Audi. Now, with cameras reviewing the quality of the weld the need for human intervention has greatly decreased.

“If you want, or need to process data in real time, you actually have to bring the compute to the data, to the point of data creation and data consumption.”

Sandra Rivera

“Edge computing is taking the technology resources we’ve been developing over many years for the computing industry and using them to analyze and process data at the edge”, McKeown says. The concept of edge computing is storing data closer to where it is generated and used—like the factory floor–instead of in the cloud, which means it can be processed in real or near real time.

“If you want, or need to process data in real time, you actually have to bring the compute to the data, to the point of data creation and data consumption”, explains Sandra Rivera, executive vice president and general manager of the datacenter and AI group at Intel. Not having to move large amounts of data enhances security, and increases reliability while reducing latency. And because data is kept more private there is an additional layer of data sovereignty available when needed, adds McKeown.

Growing opportunities for 5G at the edge

As telecommunication operators continue rolling out 5G infrastructure, “there are opportunities that start to emerge because the data rate, the latency, the control that you have over the 5G network means that we can start to use it for applications that we would not have previously thought suitable for a cellular technology,” McKeown says.

In the Audi factory example, controlling a robot arm in real time requires either a cable, a wire, an ethernet cable that connects to it to guarantee connectivity, the data rate that is needed, and the low latency control—or it has to be replaced with a wireless link, he says.

“Now imagine that robot is moving around. You really don’t want a wire trailing around on the floor for other robots to trip over. You’d really like it to be a wireless link”, McKeown says. “And the problem is, wi-fi hasn’t really gotten there just yet in terms of the quality that you would want. What 5G, in particular private 5G, offers is a much more reliable, much lower latency, much more controlled-by-software experience.”