Verizon on Monday opened the doors of its 5G-enabled Open Innovation Lab at Alley in New York City to give reporters a peek at some of the applications that a handful of startups and universities are cooking up.

Demos on the docket included interactive AR educational tools, VR-powered physical rehabilitation exercises and a life-size, 108-foot yacht on display in the lab courtesy of mixed reality technology and Verizon’s pre-commercial 5G network.

Verizon, working with Alley, launched its 5G incubator last December to provide a co-working community for creators to develop and test solutions utilizing the high speed, high bandwidth and low latency of 5G connectivity.

In opening remarks, Toby Redshaw, SVP of Technology Strategy, Innovation & Product Development at Verizon, said he is especially excited about the work being done because 5G isn’t an incremental change, but an underlying technology with the potential to change 20 to 30 verticals, including education, public safety and more.

Verizon installed its pre-commercial 5GTF technology at the site utilizing millimeter wave spectrum for connection speeds in excess of 1 Gbps and single-digit latency. In the lab at Alley, developers are using 400 MHz of bandwidth from the 28 GHz spectrum. Verizon said bandwidth number can vary, but on average, the startups are seeing download speeds of 1 Gbps and upload speeds of about 800 Mbps.

The Demos

One particularly interesting demo was a medical use case from ReCoVR, developed by Columbia University students and faculty, that used virtual reality for patient-therapist exercises to improve motor skills and help physical rehabilitation.

ReCoVR’s test showed two people using headsets and hand controls to manipulate a virtual platform with four cables to keep a virtual ball from falling. Software can change the gravitational pull in the simulation so the mass of the objects will simulate that of Earth, the Moon or Mars, for example.

The developers envision a scenario in which a therapist and patient in different locations can work together — or a therapist could observe two or more patients interacting. Very low latency is key to the test’s success, since real-time transmission is needed for the slightest movements so both participants experience the same thing. Although both people were in the same room for the demo, the signal was working from a 5G edge in Yonkers, N.Y.

One benefit of this type of physical therapy is that it helps a physical therapist to see analytically how a patient is responding and provides quantifiable data about a patient’s progress and recovery, according to the developers.

Check out the video below for a snapshot of the technology.

The New York University student and faculty developers of ChalkTalk — an open-source AR learning tool that renders multimedia objects in 3D — like to say their tech is like “Harry Potter meets Harold the Purple Crayon.”

The idea is to marry an interactive AR experience on a mobile device with a live presentation. Objects and concepts came to life when a presenter drew images that became animated and were overlayed onto a mobile device seamlessly and in real-time.

Visual storytelling is more focused, and an immersive experience results in "stickier" learning experiences, the developers said. With 5G technology, they noted there is greater control with reliably low latency of one one-hundredth of a second. Personally, I could see this type of learning as much more engaging than a typical lecture with static text or images.   

BriefCam showcased the potential of 5G’s ultra-wide bandwidth and speed to improve intelligent video analytics for city planning or security.

While capturing video footage of a large space usually requires many cameras with a wired connection, the 5G-enabled lab allows one person to run many wireless 4K video connections to servers that can review, analyze and interpret video.

BriefCam demoed a live feed of a city street where analytics software could zero in on objects or people by layering up to seven separate descriptive features. The amount of detail and accuracy in the feed was impressive, albeit a little Orwellian. On a crowded city street, the software was able to zero in, for example, on only women, then layer to see just women wearing yellow, then just women wearing yellow and carrying a backpack, and so on.

Although it may have felt a little creepy watching people going about their day, there are practical applications — of course, security situations come to mind, but also city planning and preventive purposes. For example, in a particularly congested area where cars and people converge, it could be used to plan infrastructure to prevent accidents, or video analytics could help indicate the ideal area to add a bike lane.

BriefCam developers said 5G technology allows for a denser number of cameras and that higher bandwidth delivers much greater accuracy and detail in images — while not being as cost prohibitive. They noted that the aggregation of numerous videos helps tell officials where their priorities should be.

Also on display was Arvizio, a startup working with Microsoft on immersive mixed reality for enterprise in engineering design, training and remote expert assistance.

The company’s platform and 5G enables LiDAR, 3D scans and CAD models to be prepared and shared with multiple users in different locations via mixed reality headsets. The team sees remote experts and instructors being able to communicate with users in the field as they share virtual objects from a PC, such as in field-site construction. It could also be applied to other uses; Arvizo demoed a life-size model of a 108-foot yacht that I was able to walk around and observe using a Microsoft mixed reality headset — perhaps a way to virtually shop for high-end products in the future.

LiquidSky, meanwhile, indicated that the network has been the bottleneck for most of the company’s use cases.

In New York City, the developers showed how 5G could be applied to gaming by using Mobile Edge Compute to bring computing to the edge of the network and support cloud gaming with super low latency. Using LiquidSky software and what the company calls an "interactive content delivery network," an auto racing game designed for a PC was streamed on a Samsung Android phone and to a TV display with virtually no lag time, displaying how premium gaming could happen without high-end hardware. 

A common theme shared by the startups was efforts that had previously been constrained by network limitations, and that the technology on display would have been impossible without the low latency and bandwidth that comes with 5G. 

Redshaw noted that the importance of a place like Verizon’s 5G incubator is the opportunity for the company to be open to innovation from the outside. While the New York location was its first, Verizon also established a 5G innovation hub in Washington, D.C., and is currently looking to open a third on the West Coast.