AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. JOHANN MARQUEZ-BARJA, 5G-BLUEPRINT TECHNICAL COORDINATOR

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Dr. Johann Márquez-barja
5G-Blueprint Technical Coordinator

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Where did the idea for 5G-Blueprint come from?

5G Blueprint is the outcome of a collaborative brainstorm held by several key players in 5G communication, transport, and mobility areas. We held a number of meetings, during which, we have conversed about the benefits that new technologies such as 5G would bring to different sectors, including transport and logistics, and how we could demonstrate these advantages. We have also discussed how we could improve them and take them to the next level, benefiting our society by advancing teleoperation in the roads and waterways of relevant ports of Belgium and the Netherlands.

 

What are the objectives of the 5G-Blueprint project?

The main objective of 5G Blueprint is to design, implement, and validate a 5G-based communication system capable of enhancing the transport and logistics sectors by enabling the teleoperation of vehicles and vessels. Such teleoperation comes with substantial technical and business challenges, such as seamless cross-border and reliable communications, among others, that we will address during the lifespan of the project.

 

What are the challenges of the teleoperation systems based on 5G connectivity in cross-border scenarios? How does 5G-Blueprint tackle such complexities?

There are many challenges that 5G-Blueprint must face. We have identified three types: technical, business, and regulatory. The most critical challenge in the technical area is the 5G  continuous connectivity and seamless cross-border handovers that must deliver ultra-safe and reliable connectivity to teleoperated vehicles. Among the business challenges, we will identify the most relevant business models among the different actors involved in the transport and logistics arena where teleoperation will have a significant impact. Such actors include operators, logistics and teleoperation companies, ports, and telecommunication operators, among others. Moreover, such business models aim to generate a sustainable ecosystem for 5G-enhanced teleoperation. Last but not least, we also aim to address the regulatory-related challenges that range from regulation to legal aspects. Our aim is to identify elements that should be harmonized to generate a safe and transparent regulatory framework to guarantee the success and take-off of the 5G-enhanced teleoperation.

 

What impacts can be expected from 5G-Blueprint?

5G Blueprint will generate a set of blueprints, a roadmap, on enabling teleoperation by relying on 5G connectivity within the transport and logistic context. The lesson learned during the project execution will be translated into different documents that will recommend the best suitable technical solutions, business models, and regulations.  We will deliver such blueprints to facilitate the uptake of teleoperation in the European and global context and influence different international stakeholders to invest and promote teleoperation in their business and operational roadmaps.

 

5G-Blueprint comprises a large consortium with a variety of competencies. What areas of expertise do partners bring to the project?

Indeed, 5G Blueprint has the luxury of having partners from academia, industry, and governments, who are key stakeholders in the transport and logistics value chain. Such stakeholders are a must in order to face the challenges we just discussed from comprehensive and holistic perspectives.

We work with i) Two national governments, namely the Ministerie van Infrastuctuur en Waterstaat from Holand which coordinates the project, and the Ministerie van Mobiliteit en Openbare Werken from Belgium, ii) research institutes, such as IMEC from Belgium, which is the technical coordinator of the project, and HAN University and HZ University of Applied Sciences from the Netherlands, iii) ports such as the North Sea Port in the Netherlands, and the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, iv) telecom operators such as KPN and Eurofiber from the Nederthelands and Telenet from Belgium, v) automotive OEMs as Toyota Europe with headquarters in Belgium,  vi) Teleoperation OEM such as V-Tron and MWLC from the Netherlands, Roboauto from the Czech Republic, and Seafar from Belgium, vii) Locatienet from the Nederlands with their expertise focused on vulnerable road users, viii) service providers for logistics as Sentors from the Netherlands, Room 40 and NxtPort from Belgium, ix) ITS service providers such as Be-Mobile from Belgium and Swarco from the Netherlands, x) end-user and the logistic sector as Kloosterboer and Verbugge from the Netherlands and Transport Roosens from Belgium, and xi) business accelerators such Impuls from the Netherlands, and Martel Innovate from Switzerland, which is the managing coordinator of the project. Certainly, the massive expertise gathered allows us to deliver the most relevant solutions and address the challenges mentioned earlier. All partners and the expertise that they bring to the project are crucial for the success of 5G-Blueprint and most importantly for the innovation that will translate into benefiting the society, and in particular, the transport, logistics, and telecommunications sectors.

 

5G-Blueprint is one of the 5G PPP CAM projects. What is its relation to other projects within the group?

In my position as Technical Coordinator of 5G-Blueprint and Head of the Wireless cluster at imec in the IDLab Antwerp research group – and imec being a relevant partner of four 5G PPP CAM-related projects, I can confirm that 5G Blueprint is addressing the transport and logistics sector, also known as vertical or market, enhancing teleoperation and 5G communications systems from three combined perspectives (technical, business, and regulatory), which is a unique approach within the 5G PPP CAM-related projects. 5G-Blueprint collaborates closely with the other projects within the 5G PPP association, and most importantly, brings complementary expertise to the association by participating in different working groups and sharing our approach and findings.

 

What will be the major benefit for the logistics/port operations brought forward by 5G-Blueprint solutions?

The main benefit that 5G Blueprint will bring to the logistics/port operations is the optimization of the processes related to the transport of goods. Such optimized processes will reduce the waiting times in the ports to load and unload goods, maximize the operations of the drivers (teleoperators), and minimize the difficult aspects of their profession, such as being away from home extended periods, sleeping ‘on the road’, among others, which will be translated into opening the market for new profiles and closing the gender gap. In terms of business and regulatory matters, 5G-Blueprint will bring models, based on project use cases, that will strengthen the logistics operations by forecasting productivity and cost reductions. But most importantly, 5G-Blueprint will bring significant benefits to the communications sector by providing a roadmap on specialized 5G deployments that will enable demanding and challenging services, such as teleoperation, in industrial contexts.

 

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the project?

12 months after the launch of 5G-Blueprint, we have reached a critical point for the project. Despite the pandemic, we have successfully executed the initial tasks of the project by analyzing use cases and their requirements and designing the different modular solutions that build the overall 5G-Blueprint solution. Until now, there has been a lot of work understanding the problems of the sector from three perspectives (technical, business, and regulatory) and designing an architecture/framework capable of solving such problems. From this point on, we will face the deployment and fieldwork of the 5G-Blueprint solution. Such deployment will address three challenging sites in the Netherlands and Belgium. Doing so will require equipment, experimentation and trials, permits, and the logistics related to such activities that, due to the pandemic, will be affected. However, we perform continuous monitoring and risk assessment, which will help us to overcome potential issues (such as unavailability of equipment or delayed processes). 5G-Blueprint has a ‘plan B’ for critical activities. Hopefully, we will not need to use it, but it is there should the pandemic make things difficult.

 

When do you expect the use cases to be deployed? It will be an exciting moment for the project, can you tell us more!

We have just reached our 12 month anniversary, and from now on, we will start deploying our solutions. In the upcoming 12 months, we will be testing different solutions independently but collaboratively. From solutions related to 5G connectivity and teleoperation per se in trucks and vessels to special enabling functions and services. We aim to have an initial comprehensive trial of our use cases at the end of the second year of the project.

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