JD.com and AI-LINK Make AGVs Smart through Private 5G-Based Operation and Maintenance Platform

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3Q 2022 | IN-6620

During the most recent 618 shopping festival, JD.com and AI-LINK Network operated more than 100 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) on a private 5G-based AGV operation and maintenance platform and achieved process streamlining and efficiency gain, setting up the foundation for higher efficient and hyperscale automation. This insight offers a detailed look at the partnership and the underlying technologies.

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AI-LINK Network Runs JD.com's AGVs over Private 5G Network


Based in China, AI-LINK Network is a 5G and edge computing technology vendor, providing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions built on cellular connectivity. In June 2022, the company connected more than 100 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) in a 6,600 Square Meter (m2) JD.com warehouse at Changsha city in Hunan Province over a private 5G connection. By leveraging a 5G-based AGV operation and maintenance platform, JD.com managed to streamline its overall system process and increase its overall efficiency, setting up the foundation for more efficient and hyperscale automation.

Reliable Connectivity, Redundant Infrastructure, and Simulation Tools Critical to Successful Deployment


JD.com AGVs transmit various status data to the Warehouse Control System (WCS) over the cellular connection, including driver servo motor and scanned barcode information. However, when the robots were connected via Wi-Fi, some status data were not updated due to an unstable Wi-Fi connection. This led to the WCS being unable to send control instructions to AGVs in a timely fashion, causing frequent operation interruptions and manual intervention.

By replacing Wi-Fi with 5G, the test demonstrated a much more continuous and stable connection with lower latency, zero packet loss, a lower error rate, and lower heartbeat timeout times than the Wi-Fi network. In addition, AI-LINK’s 5G-based edge intelligence platform eliminates roaming errors during handovers and service disruption due to more ubiquitous coverage and optimization of data packet transmission. In the long run, the platform can even be used to schedule AGV wake-sleep functions based on real-time demand and contributes to minimizing JD.com’s carbon footprint.

AI-LINK deploys four remote radio units, two baseband units, and two private core networks on-site for this deployment. All this equipment ensures reliable and ubiquitous 5G coverage, with no blind spot and full redundancy. AI-LINK also uses Keysight’s UeSIM, a user equipment simulation solution, and LoadCore, a cloud-native 5G core (5GC) network test solution, to ensure smooth deployment. These two solutions allow AI-LINK to simulate the performance and conditions of a private 5G private network designed for a large AGV fleet in a laboratory environment. As a result, AI-LINK can discover complex connectivity issues that may occur in large-scale industrial scenarios, verify the interoperability of the protocol and radio frequency domains, and develop corresponding solutions quickly and efficiently.

5G Is the Future for Mobile Robots


As one of the largest e-commerce retailers in the world, JD.com has more than 3,600 large warehouses in China. In recent years, the company has been expanding progressively to overseas markets. Aside from partnering with local robotics startups, such as ForwardX Robotics, HAI Robotics, and Mooe Robot, JD.com also designs and develops its AGVs and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) for other use cases, such as last-mile delivery. This is a common practice among significant e-commerce retailers in the world. Amazon, for example, introduced its first AMR in June 2022 for its ever-increasing warehousing workloads.

ABI Research expects warehouses to continue to be the largest vertical for robotics automation (see our Mobile Robotics report (MD-MOROBO-101)), with total shipments exceeding 1 million in 2030. Most of these robots will likely run on a Wi-Fi system, as the industrial private 5G network is still at an early stage. According to ABI Research’s recent whitepaper on Hannover Messe 2022, the deployment of a private cellular network for enterprise digitization is far less pressing and has been deprioritized. Nonetheless, the potential is immense. This partnership between JD.com and AI-LINK remains the first AGV deployment on 5G, and more will be expected as the industry sees more 5G robotics trials (see ABI Research’s 5G in Robotics: Trials and Deployments presentation (PT-2356v).

As a firm believer in the potential of 5G and edge computing, AI-LINK Network is optimistic about the potential for 5G-based edge intelligence in smart warehouses. Aside from efficiency gain, the solution also provides unified operation and maintenance that lowers Operating Expenditures (OPEX) and is a foundation for introducing additional programming, telemetry, and control capabilities in the future. The company believes that these key advantages will allow it to replace those Wi-Fi-based solutions by major e-commerce retailers slowly. Aside from empowering warehousing robots, AI-LINK also provides industrial computer vision and wireless industrial automation, leveraging the same edge computing infrastructure.


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