Project tests 5G in automating 40 tonne lorries

  • March 1, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson
Nissan test track in Sunderland

A 5G test project in England is targeting last-kilometre logistics by automating a 40 tonne lorry. The £4.9m operation will take place at the Nissan test track in Sunderland.

The pilot will see 5G technology used in an operational automotive environment. North, a UK IoT service provider, has been appointed to design, build and support the operation.

The project will see North partner with Nokia to access 5G technology. The project has the potential to support connected automated logistics (CAL).

As the prime contractor, project manager and systems integrator, North will put the infrastructure in place required to test and demonstrate the operational 5G-enabled autonomous delivery.

The pilot will enable the removal of the driver from the process and allow remote teleoperations to control the vehicles, which can carry up to 40 tonnes of materials. This project will showcase how network providers and industry can come together to design and develop automated logistics.

Artificial intelligence and analytics will be used to review, stress test and hone the technology. Throughout the test period, which will last around 12 to 18 months, the consortium will ensure the system is fit for purpose, protected from threats such as security breaches and create a blueprint for similar projects.

“This is a significant milestone for 5G standalone technology in the UK,” said Glen Williams, chief executive for North. “We know that the potential of 5G is tremendous, however, to realise it, we need to see more innovative projects such as this being driven forward across different sectors and UK regions. We were selected to fully design and deliver the next generation connectivity for this pilot because of our exceptional track record for delivering high performance innovations, including our unique end-to-end approach which provides clients with a full service. This is coupled with our specific experience of delivering 5G technology and our partnership with Nokia, a global leader in 5G. We are looking forward to working with all of the stakeholders to take the technology out of the testbed and into a safe and controlled operational manufacturing environment for the first time.”

Funding for the pilot was secured by a consortium comprising the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), Sunderland City Council, Newcastle University, Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, StreetDrone and Perform Green.

“5G enabled automated logistics is the next key innovation drive for last-mile logistics across the automotive sector,” said Paul Butler, NEAA chief executive. “This project has the potential to deliver significant efficiency gains and put the north-east at the forefront of connected and automated logistics technology. I am delighted that North, and partner Nokia, were successful. They bring with them vast knowledge and experience which will be a major benefit to the project.”

The partners secured £2.4m from 5G Create, a £30m open competition combining British creativity with innovative uses for 5G, part of the UK government’s £200m 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT).

“Ensuring we put the power of 5G to good use in our economy is front and centre of our efforts to build back better,” said the UK’s digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman. “We are leading the charge of this tech revolution by investing £200m in cutting-edge trials across the UK. I’m looking forward to seeing how the project in Sunderland can use 5G to boost industrial productivity through the use of driverless vehicles.”

Richard Barrington, executive consultant at Perform Green, added:“The 5G CAL partnership is building what is probably the most advanced 5G network in the UK in terms of its performance and advanced 5G capabilities, so we’re delighted that North and Nokia will be working with us to deliver this. They bring excellent skills to accelerate and de-risk the build, are providing access to the latest 5G technologies and will be supporting us through the life of the programme.”

A 5G standalone private wireless network will be provided using Nokia’s digital automation cloud, a digitisation service platform that features high-performance private wireless and edge computing. Compact and easy-to-deploy it comprises network equipment, a cloud-based operation monitoring system and industrial connectors that ease standard and industry-specific protocol connectivity.

Phil Siveter, head of Nokia in the UK and Ireland, said:“Participation in this landmark initiative comprises a major step forward in the development of autonomous IoT-based logistics, and presents an outstanding showcase for Nokia 5G standalone private wireless capability as a key enabler.”

Sunderland was named as UK Smart City of the Year for 2020, recognising digital innovation and transformation.

“The combination of our renowned industrial ingenuity with new 5G technology positions Sunderland extremely competitively in the global marketplace,” said Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council. “And the collective expertise across the 5G CAL consortium is primed to make great progress in this field. Improving competitiveness to attract inward investment and boost exports are key drivers in our regionally focused investment to automate logistics for manufacturing. Accelerating and supporting economic growth through the creation of this exemplar will encourage further private and public sector investment, representing a major opportunity for us here in Sunderland and the wider north-east region.”

North provides intelligent integrated technology to improve the performance and safety of people, organisations and places. It was created by the merger of Boston Networks, PEL Services, 2020 Vision Systems and Pinacl.