Johannesburg, 30 Aug 2023
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making robots smarter, more autonomous and more fluid in their ability to anticipate and respond to situations at hand. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed new operational challenges that could be more effectively addressed by augmenting human resources with robots. Most importantly, innovative, cost-effective and highly reliable wireless mesh networks are making the deployment of mobile robotics possible in a vast range of settings where other options are prohibitively expensive at best, inaccessible or unreliable at worst.
At the most basic level, today’s robots are computers placed on mobile platforms. Sometimes they are used in a sentinel mode, stationed at doorways or tethered in the air, but they deliver the most value when organisations have the flexibility to move them around as needed.
When it comes to planning for security deployments, technological mobility is a paradigm-changer. Hundreds of detection points, cameras and sensors can be replaced with far fewer mobile, autonomous solutions covering the same territory. Robots themselves may be costly, but their expense is fractional compared to the overwhelming amount of infrastructure necessary to support permanent security devices.
“There are many robotics applications in the South African market, but one of the primary drivers has been the mining industry and their push for automation, not just to drive efficiency but also to enhance safety. Wireless mesh has proven a reliable technology to provide communications in this dynamic environment, requiring low-latency performance to ensure seamless control and monitoring of autonomous machinery,” says Teresa Huysamen, Wireless Business Unit Executive at Duxbury Networking, local distributor of Rajant technology.
The method by which robots connect and communicate across the network is fundamental to their viability and overall cost. Technological challenges and performance limitations can render them untenable, regardless of the robots’ capabilities and features. Wireless mesh, which enables highly secure, fluid communications between hundreds of devices, including those in motion, alleviates a broad swath of stakeholders’ concerns.
The greatest challenge in supporting robotic and autonomous solutions is keeping them connected. Wireless mesh networks are unique in their ability to provide consistent, reliable coverage across virtually any space, regardless of the property’s size, topography, physical obstacles, RF traffic and weather conditions. There’s no digging of trenches to lay power or a wired infrastructure; no strategic positioning of gateway access points for devices to connect through. Instead, the network comprises any number of radios, or nodes, that automatically identify and transmit to others within range, continually adjusting to find the fastest and most stable connections. Data is rerouted based on changing conditions, including signal strength, competing traffic, bandwidth needs and other factors.
For robotic and autonomous solutions, where mobility is of critical importance, Rajant Kinetic Mesh goes a step further, offering machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity and dual radios for alternative pathways to send and receive. In such networks, mobile assets are each equipped with a transceiver. As a result, their connection to the network supports their own communication and strengthens the network by creating new data pathways. Plus – particularly relevant for drones and robots – as these assets move, so does the network supporting them.
When compared to other networking options, wireless mesh is superior in almost every way to support unmanned ground vehicles, drones and other robotic devices, says Duxbury Networking.
- Security: The risk associated with a hacked robotic security device is twofold: bad actors could compromise its sensing and reporting capabilities, but they could also interfere with its physical operation, causing harm to those in its proximity. Wireless mesh is a very secure technology, a top consideration for decision-makers tasked with protecting their businesses’ networks.
“Duxbury suggests using Rajant Kinetic Mesh, which features AES 256-bit security and FIP’s 140-142 compliant military-grade encryption. It is also HIPAA compliant. All transmission occurs at layer two, with no IP addresses assigned to individual devices. This means that opportunities for successful cyber attacks are practically non-existent,” says Huysamen.
- Reliability and redundancy: For the challenges of supporting drones and robots, system engineers have traditionally turned to either cellular or wireless point-to-point solutions. Both have drawbacks.
Cellular is not an option everywhere. There are still plenty of locations that suffer from ‘one-bar service’ places, where an autonomous solution’s data demands cannot rely on cellular. Even where coverage is strong, service may be inconsistent during times of heavy traffic. Mission-critical security systems require better than this.
Point-to-point wireless also poses limitations. Unlike the completely decentralised, peer-to-peer topology of wireless mesh, point-to-point wireless relies on communication towers that serve as communication gateways.
By contrast, wireless mesh’s fluid nature provides inherently reliable, redundant connectivity, especially when M2M capabilities exist. A drone, or swarm of drones, can facilitate omnidirectional coverage over an extended area, while simultaneously providing video surveillance and other situational data. Ground and water vehicles enjoy the freedom of movement, expanding the network as they roam. The mesh structure has no single point of failure; data pathways form wherever connectivity is needed. Support for a wide range of frequencies further ensures that adequate bandwidth is always available.
- High bandwidth, low-latency transmission: Robots transmit a lot of data. It’s not just the communications necessary to maintain their mechanical movement and navigational functions. When used in security and public safety applications, these devices are loaded up with cameras, two-way audio and other sensors. All those systems also demand high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity.
Because the wireless mesh is a closed network, transmission is faster than if systems were accessing cellular towers or transmitting through the cloud to communicate between connected devices. Networks can contain any number of nodes – from under 10 to many hundreds; each additional node functionally strengthens the network. Networks can be scaled up and down quickly and easily through the addition or removal of devices and their associated nodes. The mesh adjusts automatically, making new connections based on what’s available.
- Cost: When selecting a network capable of supporting robotic solutions, wireless mesh is not only superior in performance, it’s also less expensive than alternatives. The savings result from the network’s cost and the ability to leverage mobile robotic solutions to replace a more expensive static security infrastructure.
Mesh networks offer long-term value and comparatively low total cost of ownership. The only upfront expense is the purchase of nodes and the minimal labour necessary to get up and running. There are no recurring licensing or data-use fees. Furthermore, the ability to provide coverage of a broad area through mobile robotic technology, in place of many more cameras, sensors and live human security guards, can reduce the required initial technology investment and the recurring costs for security operations.
“Low latency, high bandwidth and reliability are crucial aspects to ensure that a robotics-centric network operates effectively. Rajant’s InstaMesh technology can help get the network there, but it all starts with comprehensive planning. Duxbury is available to provide advice and assist with planning and design of these networks, to make sure performance meets expectations,” says Huysamen.
Since its formation in 1984 by CEO, Graham Duxbury, Duxbury Networking has embraced ongoing technological changes within the ICT sector in order to provide its customers with access to the latest trends and solutions. Satisfying the evolving and diverse needs of its customer base is achieved through an emphasis on sourcing cost-effective, high-quality products from carefully selected local and international vendors. Aligned with this is the provision of uncompromising technical support, which is possible due to an extensive investment in the training and upskilling of its team. The company is driven to take an active role in reshaping and redefining the South African digital landscape in its mission to help its customers build a network that will support current and future technologies.