Why do startups work out of hubraum Berlin? Free office space, proximity to other innovative startups…but most of all, so they can carry out live 5G testing. 5G isn’t just the latest iteration of cellular technology. It’s the foundation for near-infinite possibilities: surgery carried out remotely using robotics, augmented reality gaming and autonomous driving, amongst numerous other use cases.
While laboratories have been offering 5G for a while, we’re the first commercial location in Germany to offer 5G coverage and it’s one of the biggest reasons that startups choose to work from Berlin’s hubraum incubator. This April, we opened the hubraum studio in Berlin to create an even bigger and better place for testing. But how does live 5G testing actually work? We decided to meet up with Darius, the CEO of the mapping and localization startup Visualix to accompany him while he uses 5G to test his service.
Which is what, exactly? Visualix, in Darius’s own words “allows augmented reality to be used on really large spaces very robustly.” He notes that the main difference between the service Visualix offers and conventional technology is scale — “with conventional technology, you can only enable AR to be placed on a twenty square metre map. With Visualix, we can extend this map to 20,000 square metres. This enables completely new use cases which previously weren’t possible.” He notes this makes it possible to map the entirety of the physical world with AR experiences for the first time ever. Darius also believes that “for many localization use-cases which are currently solved by using beacons and markers, camera-based localization is a far more cost-effective and simpler way to go.” Instead of wiring warehouse with 1000 beacons to the tune of 250,000€, Visualix’s Visual Mapping and Localisation platform can localize forklifts for a fraction of the cost and without the hardware installation and maintenance which markers and beacons commonly require.
Darius notes that 5G “brings new opportunities” with it — while they’ve mainly been offering their service to the retail, logistics and manufacturing sector, they’re now exploring a new gaming direction. “I believe we will live in a future where ubiquitous data transfer and computation will be the backbone of new applications. You can have these super gaming experiences, like Google Stadia for example. They create these HD experiences without any latency, I mean — that’s completely crazy.”
Unfortunately, Darius isn’t yet ready to share Visualix’s gaming direction with the public — so stay tuned for more info on this! Instead, he decides to test their large scale mapping and localization service using 5G. We start by looking at his desktop and his phone. The platform works both on a server (in this demo case, we used a laptop Darius brought along) and via an app for your phone, and he’s going to use his phone today to test the whole SDK. The acronym is short for “software development kit” and you can see an example app that was created with the SDK here:
It consists of a mapping application, a placing application and a viewing application. The SDK is primarily targeted at developers who can test Visualix with the demo app and then later customize the same app for their own use cases and the SDK “allows developers to program IOS apps and unity apps.”
“While I map with my phone, the data streamed to the server is converted into a highly robust large scale point cloud. In this example, my laptop is the server, and you can see the creation of the point cloud in real time.”
“In settings, you can have different resolutions, I can choose different mapping frequencies and for 5G of course, it’s important that we have a super high resolution of HD and high frequency. This allows the highest-quality mapping and localisation, so that AR can work quickly and reliably in large spaces, whether indoors or outdoors.”
It’s fascinating watching Darius map the entire space – step one of the process. While Darius moves around the room, I watch a video feed which a point cloud is superimposed onto. “Our algorithms can subsequently recognise these characteristic points in order to localise your phone with centimetre-specific accuracy” he tells me. While it’s hard to imagine getting lost in this medium-sized room, it’s easy to see how this could make life far easier if you were, say, a worker in a giant warehouse. But it’s not just about getting lost: the Visualix platform can be customised to allow for a wide range of functions. For example, allowing factory owners to optimize maintenance; factory management, factory planning (like creating maps for industrial applications) and many, many more.
“So now we’ve created this amazing point cloud. That was the first step. And now we place content. You place virtual content anywhere in the world. Let’s say I want to place a marker here.” He points his phone at a corner of the office and clicks. On the screen, I can now see a marker that’s placed exactly – with centimetre specific precision – at the point he specified.
He explains that while he can also do mapping using 4G, by using 5G, he’s able to map a location with even higher accuracy. This has the greatest impact for the gaming sector. He points out that for a multiplayer augmented reality game, a very small shift can make a world of difference. “Imagine there’s four of us attacking an AR dragon in the park — we want to shoot it from all its different sides. A small shift, say, of 10 or 20 milliseconds results in half a degree change in the angle and being half a degree out means a displacement of two metres. Obviously, a difference of two metres would be unacceptable in the game. This is why it’s important to bring latency down from let’s say 100 milliseconds to say, 10. And that’s why accuracy is important.”
He explains that as simple as this seems, the ability to test 5G has changed everything for the company. “I think our direction, our outsourcing computation and analysis to the cloud complements this 5G direction very well. Because we believe that computation is something that should be around you and the phone doesn’t quite provide this — even though it’s quite powerful, it’s not powerful enough. This is why we’re so interested in the AR glasses direction, because AR glasses naturally have less hardware because they have to be light. We want to use them to stream the data to the server and to do the mapping and localisation, so this is another field in which 5G will really help us.”
If you’re interested in 5G testing too, you should stop by our Berlin location! While in the past, startups have had to be enrolled in a program or working with Deutsche Telekom to get access to hubraum Berlin’s futuristic technology, with the opening of our 5G studio, hubraum Berlin is making 5G testing more accessible. You no longer have to join a program or make a commitment to using our coworking space. We’re welcoming startups to stop by and use the space. Simply drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to explain what you’ll be testing for your chance to reserve the space absolutely for free, no strings attached.