Sunderland project will bring ground-breaking technology to life for the first time

A ground-breaking pilot which will see pioneering 5G technology used in an operational automotive environment for the very first time in the UK, has been unveiled. North, the UK’s leading IoT service and solutions provider, has been appointed to design, build and support the £4.9 million operation, which will take place close to Vantec at the Nissan test track in Sunderland, addressing the next innovation challenge of last mile logistics – the automation of a 40 tonne HGV.

The project will see North partner with the world’s leading manufacturer of 5G Solutions, Nokia, to access the latest 5G technology which will firmly establish the North East as a global leader in advanced logistics. Importantly, the project has the potential to support the continued revolution in Connected Automated Logistics (CAL) and provides a 5G core for the North East, positioning it for further investment and growth.

Funding for the CAL pilot was secured by a consortium which comprises The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA), Sunderland City Council, Newcastle University, Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, StreetDrone and Perform Green. The partners secured £2.4 million from 5G Create, a £30 million open competition combining British creativity with innovative new uses for 5G, part of the UK government’s £200 million 5G testbeds and trials programme (5GTT).

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 logistic solutions which address industry challenges with innovation.

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

Glen Williams, Chief Executive for North said: “This is a significant milestone for 5G standalone technology in the UK. 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 innovative solutions, 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.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Ensuring we put the power of 5G to good use in our economy is front and centre of our efforts to build back better. We are leading the charge of this tech revolution by investing £200 million 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.”

Paul Butler, Chief Executive, for the North East Automobile Alliance (NEAA) added: “5G enabled automated logistics is the next key innovation drive for last mile logistics across the automotive sector. 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 the successful, they bring with them vast knowledge and experience which will be a major benefit to the project.”

Richard Barrington Exec Consultant at Perform Green and 5G Work stream lead said: “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.”

5G Standalone private wireless networking will be provided using Nokia Digital Automation Cloud, a digitization 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 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.

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive at Sunderland City Council, said: “The combination of our renowned industrial ingenuity with new 5G technology positions Sunderland extremely competitively in the global marketplace. 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.”