What is Curiosity Lab and how T-Mobile is helping to fuel Innovation

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What is Curiosity Lab and how T-Mobile is helping to fuel Innovation

Greg Orloff, IIoT World: T-Mobile partnered with Peachtree Corners and Georgia Tech to fuel 5G Innovation in drones, autonomous vehicles, robotics, and more. Why this partnership?

Tiana McNeil, T-Mobile:  T-Mobile went from being the 4th largest mobile carrier in the US to number two through the acquisition of Sprint. With this acquisition, T-Mobile is now focused on bringing broadband access to Rural America. This is of special interest as we focus on bringing 5G access everywhere throughout the US to solve the broadband divide. Through the Sprint acquisition, T-Mobile added a mid-range breadth of frequency that allowed us to offer “the Cake”, low-band, mid-band, and millimeter-wave spectrum.

Our partnership with Peachtree Corners started in 2019.  Peachtree Corners was seeking 5G to be the backbone for innovation at their proving ground at Curiosity Lab. At that time, the breadth of devices being developed on 5G was limited (only several handsets and devices). T-Mobile’s partnership with the city for the last 3.5 years has centered on two drivers:

1. The first is to enable startups participating in the early-stage business incubator and accelerator at Curiosity Lab, network access as they design their products to the new protocols of 5G.

2. Use the resources as a living laboratory where the 500-acre proving ground provides them access to real-life infrastructure to answer the question and demonstrate “Why 5G”.  The Beep shuttle systems run on 5G.  The cameras and LiDAR detection run on 5G.  These are all applications and edge devices that historically required a hardwire connection to access the internet.  So, fiber runs were a necessary consideration and cost to factor into smart city projects.  Now we can put these on a wireless network.

That’s why we are here; to work with different partners, from startups to large corporations like Ericsson, Cradlepoint, and big module manufacturers that we can jointly engage with to prove out different concepts.  Crawl at home.  Develop your vision; your use case, and then you can walk here at Peachtree Corners with us in a live environment.  Then we can see, does it really work?  How does it work?  How much data is it generating and is that commercially viable at those levels?

Greg Orloff, IIoT World: When you come into a new environment like Peachtree Corners, how much can you leverage 4G or other current infrastructure. If you came into a city with a robust 4G network, is that equipment usable?

Tiana McNeil, T-Mobile: Many applications are extremely viable on 4G.

For example, the autonomous drone project in which we recently engaged. We worked on a project here at Curiosity Lab with an autonomous drone that was doing surveillance.  It was conducting its drills as well as landing on its own all over a 4G network.

The difference lies in the data needs and latency needs of the devices and applications.  A lot of the needs requiring 5G are in the robotics, XR, VR, gaming, and esports some of those newer areas or emerging technologies. Now that 5G is here, these areas are where we are starting to adopt it and it’s really going to become household in the next two years.

What’s going to be in our schools?  What can we do in the educational environment?  We are looking at high flex classrooms, which are joint, meaning students are both in-person and remotely engaging depending on their current situation.  Given a situation as we had during Covid, where you have students logging in from home, how do we ensure the experience is immersive for not only the students attending in person but also the ones logging in remotely.

We are starting to see innovations being tested for 3D holograms and XR and VR to do just that.  So, for these emerging applications, we are starting to see tidbits of technology using 5G as it will have the capacity to scale with them as they go.

Greg Orloff, IIoT World: When T-Mobile engages with an organization like Curiosity Lab here at Peachtree Corners, where do your capabilities and engagement model start and stop? You are coming in and providing the network, but do you also sit down and collaborate with the other companies engaging here; where does your collaboration stop?

Tiana McNeil, T-Mobile: I can give you an example of the range of engagement.

We are working with an early-stage startup that has initially designed on 3G and needs to go to 5G and they need to redesign the product accordingly.  So, for our engagement, every call or conversation starts with a series of questions like What are you using now?  What module are you using?  What kind of data are you collecting and what kind of support will you need?  What do we want to test?  What are the KPIs?  What are we trying to accomplish?  So, we sit down and discuss as a team.  Next, we come up with a design that we think will work and then bring in the hardware to start testing and ultimately begin to evaluate the approach.  This type of exercise is usually done with a team including the folks from the startup, a couple resources from our team at T Mobile, and a member from Curiosity Lab.  Now for a larger scale program like one of the OEM programs that are currently in motion, that’s a much larger group.  We have members from our technical team at T-Mobile, as well as representatives from a couple of OEMs, a group from Cradlepoint, as well as technical experts from Curiosity Lab.

A specific example of this is a program we are working on with Bosch for video analytics and sensors.

The products are operating on an android light platform capable of running seven applications simultaneously.  We are running data AI on one of the cameras and using them to monitor the streets.  Using object detection to count cars, counting traffic patterns, and monitoring to see who’s using the crosswalks and when.  All of this is happening on the backbone of the network.  When we have cameras that are connected to our network, we also need to look at how much data they use, whether they have security requirements, and the overall needs of the device.  Then we package all this information for our customers.

Greg Orloff, IIoT World: Can you share one of your biggest success stories here at Curiosity Lab?

Tiana McNeil, T-Mobile: I think the key is collaboration. It’s the ability to co-collaborate with other companies. So, like I just said, it’s so easy to sit down here and design something together.  Because we are the network, we are not designing the solutions, we are working with other companies to innovate and that’s really the big win.  Stat wise we have over 40 products we’ve worked with here at Curiosity Lab. That’s important from an innovation standpoint.  We have over 30 customers a quarter walking through this facility, looking at different projects and products that are engaging here.  As a result, they often want to buy that from T-Mobile or the company doing development.  So, it’s an ecosystem of innovation to develop those win-wins.

Greg Orloff, IIoT World: How much of what you are doing with 5G in the Smart City space is also being leveraged in the manufacturing or other sectors?

Tiana McNeil, T-Mobile: Robotics is an area where there is activity as well as sensors for the manufacturing floor, those are both areas where we are currently doing work here at Curiosity Lab.  We are seeing a lot of activity in thermal and other sensor technology for equipment monitoring (overheating, PM [preventive maintenance], etc.).  Safety analysis and asset monitoring are two areas we are seeing, whether it is monitoring for slip and fall, awareness of how many and how long individuals have been in each place, or how many people are in a given building, Covid or heat maps.

Greg Orloff, IIoT World: How does T-Mobile find organizations to work and partner with in these emerging technology areas?

Tiana McNeil, T-Mobile: Now that we are the #2 carrier in the U.S., a lot more companies are coming to see what we are doing in IoT to explore how to partner.

We do run multiple consortiums, in a similar spirit to America’s Got Talent, where it’s a call out, for example, in the healthcare space or smart city space.  There is a staging and interview process and if the business model is strong enough, it moves into the accelerator programs.  In addition to our efforts here at Curiosity Lab and Georgia Tech’s Connected Future program, we have another effort around 5G open innovation out in Bellevue, WA.  So, we have two big engines that are continuously hunting and actively looking for opportunities for collaboration.  On top of that, we have what’s coming in organically as well as through relationships with large existing fortune 500 corporations.