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Engaging the public in robotics: 11 tips from 5,000 robotics events across Europe

Europe is focussed on making robots that work for the benefit of society. This requires empowering future roboticists and users of all ages and backgrounds. In its 9th edition, the European Robotics Week (#ERW2019) is expected to host more than 1000 events across Europe. Over the years, and over 5,000 events, the organisers have learned a thing or two about reaching the public, and ultimately making the robots people want.

Demystify robotics

For many, robots are only seen in the media or science fiction. The robotics community promises ubiquitous robots, yet most people don’t encounter robots in their work or daily lives. This matters. The Eurobarometer 2017 survey of attitudes towards the impact of digitisation found that the more familiar people are with robots, the more positive they are about the technology. A recent workshop for ERW organisers highlighted the “importance of being able to touch, feel, see and enjoy the presence of robots in order to remove the ‘fear factor’ and improve the image of robots.” People need to interact with real robots to understand their potential, and limitations.

Bring robots to public places

Most robotics events happen where roboticists and their robots already are, in universities and industry. This works well for those who show interest in the field, and have the means to attend. To reach a broader audience, robots need to be brought to public places, such as city centres, or shopping malls. ERW organisers said “don’t expect ordinary people to come to universities.” In Ghent Belgium for example, space was found in the city library to give visitors an opportunity to interact with robots. More recently, the Smart Cities Robotics (SciRoc) challenge held an international robot competition in a shopping mall in the UK.

Tackle global challenges

Robots have a role to play in tackling today’s most pressing challenges, whether it’s the environment, healthcare, assistive living, or education. Robots can also improve efficiencies in industry and avoid 4D (dangerous, dirty, difficult, drudgerous) jobs. This is not often explicitly highlighted, with robots presented for the sake of it as fun gadgets, instead of useful tools. By positioning robots as the helpers of tomorrow, we empower users to imagine their applications, and roboticists receive meaningful feedback on their use. Such applications may also be more exciting for a broader diversity of people.

The ‘Blue-Eyed Dragon’ Robot by Biljana Vicković (with the University of Belgrade, Mihajlo Institute, Robotics Laboratory Belgrade, Serbia) for example introduced an innovative and socially useful robotic artwork into a public space with a tin recycling function. It integrates robotics into an artwork with a demonstrable ecological, social and cultural impact. “The essence of this innovative work of art is that it enables the public to interact with it. As such people are direct participants and not merely an audience. In this way contemplation is replaced by action.” says its creator.

Tell stories about people who work with robots

Useful robots will ultimately be embedded in society, our work, our lives. Their role is often presented from the developers’s or industry’s perspective. This leaves the public with the sense that robots are being “done to them”, rather than with them. By bringing the users in the discussion, we hear stories of how they use the technology, what their hopes and concerns are, and ultimately design better robots and inspire future users to make use of robots themselves.

Bring a diversity of people together 

Making robots requires a large range of backgrounds, from social sciences, law, and business, to hardware and software engineering. Domain expertise, will also be key. Assistive robots will require input from nurse carers for example. Engaging with a diverse population of makers and users will help ensure the technology is developed for everyone. The ERW2019 central event in Poznan features a panel dedicated to women in digital and robotics.
Carmela Sánchez from Hisparob in Spain says “this year, our motto for ERW is Robotic Thinking and Inclusion. We focus on how robotics and computational thinking can help inclusion: inclusion of different abilities, social, and economic backgrounds, and genders.”

Avoid hype and exaggerations 

Inflated expectations about robotics may lead to disappointment when robots are deployed, or may lead to unfounded fears about their use. A recent ERW organiser commented “Robots are not prevalent or visible in society at large and so prevailing perceptions about robots are largely shaped by media presentation, which too often resort to negative stereotypes.” It’s worth noting robots are typically made for a single task, and many do not look like a humanoid robot. With this lens, robots no longer seem too difficult to engineer, and are far from science fiction depictions. This could be empowering for those who would like to become roboticist, and could help users imagine robots that would be helpful to them. The Smart CIties Robotics challenge for example showed the crowds how robots could help them take a lift, or deliver emergency medicine in a mall.


Teach teachers

By teaching teachers to teach robotics, we can reach many more students than what is possible through all the European Robotics Week combined. Lia Garcia, founder of Logix5 and a national coordinator of ERW in Spain underscored the need to engage the education sector: “We have to work with teachers. We need to get robotics onto the school curriculum, onto the teaching college curriculum and to get to teachers who teach teachers.” Workshops that teach educators, and help spread the word among local teachers are essential. As an added encouragement, they could receive CPD (continuing professional development) credits for taking part in robotics workshops. The ERW2019 central event in Poznan features a workshop dedicated to robotics education in Europe on 15 November.

Run competitions

Competitions are an important way of bringing students into robotics. It’s fun, and exciting, and shows they can build something that works in the real world. Europe now hosts several large robotics competitions including the European Robotics League (Emergency, Consumer, Professional, and Smart Cities). While these competitions are tailored to university students, others are run for kids. The ERW event page already has over 100 robot competitions and challenges listed for this year. Fiorella Operto from Scuola di Robotica has coordinated more than 100 teams from all over Italy committed to using a humanoid robot to promote the Italian Cultural Heritage. The 2020 edition of the NAO Challenge is devoted to “Arts&Cultures”, asking robotics to improve the knowledge of and to promote beautiful Italian art.

Keep it fun

More than ever, we have a broad range of tools to engage with the public. It could be as simple as drawing pictures of robots, to developing robot-themes escape rooms, or engaging on social media including youtube, twitter, instagram and tiktok. Robots are fun, which is why they are such good tools in education. Be creative with demos and activities. Make robots dance, allow people to decorate them, play games. University of Bristol for example will be running a swarm-themed escape room called Swarm Escape!.

Engage with stakeholders

Events with the public are a good opportunity to engage with stakeholders, including government, industry, and users. This is important as stakeholders will ultimately be the ones making robots a reality. Having them participate in such events helps them understand the potential, invest in technology and skills, and shape policy. It could also provide funding for some of the more ambitious events. “For the first time since 2012, Robotics Place, the cluster of Occitanie, organizes a one day meeting with its members on November 20th in Toulouse. Robotics Place members will meet with press, politics, students, partners and professional customers.” says Philippe Roussel, a local coordinator for France.

Act regionally, connect across Europe

Events are present across Europe, organised regionally for the local community. Connecting these events at a European scale increases impact, raise awareness, builds momentum, and allows for lessons to be shared across the content. euRobotics and Digital Innovation Hubs provide valuable resources for these purposes.

Yet there is a divide in access, with cities being better catered to than rural communities, or areas that are poorer. The challenge is to provide everyone with access and exposure to robotics and its opportunities. Extra effort should be made to reach out to underserved communities, for example using a “robot roadshow”. Organisers of ERW said “a further benefit of this cross-border approach would be to enhance the European dimension.” As an example, from May 2020, a 105m long floating Science Center called the MS Experimenta will be touring southern Germany, bringing science from port to port.

Get involved

Feeling inspired, ready to make a difference? Organise your own European Robotics Week event, big or small, and register it here along with the over 900 events already announced.

Encouraging robot uptake through Europe’s network of Digital Innovation Hubs

A recent report by the OECD showed that Europe is only capitalising on a fraction (12%) of its digital potential. Most companies limit their digital use to email and internet. Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are particularly slow to integrate digital technologies. The recent Digital Economy and Society Index Report found that “Less than a fifth of companies in the EU-28 are highly digitised“ and that “Use of robots is low on an EU level, with 6.7% of all enterprises using industrial or service robots. The share of large enterprises that use robots is four times higher than the share of SMEs.” 

Yet advances in robotics, AI, cloud computing, and big data have the potential to boost productivity and change the industrial landscape.

Image 1: Use of robots in the EU in 2018. Source: Eurostat

Digital Innovation Hubs

In an effort to increase uptake of digital technologies in companies, the European Commission promised 500M € in 2016, over 5 years, to launch Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). DIHs are regional one-stop-shops that help companies access the latest knowledge, expertise, and technology to prototype and test their own digital innovations, network, receive financing advice and market intelligence. 

Key to the success of DIHs is to build on core technology infrastructures, so-called Competence Centres (CC), and other existing structures, and link them on a regional level. The idea is that every company should be able to access at least one DIH within their region. This is especially important since most SMEs confess not knowing where to start when it comes to integrating digital technologies into their companies.

“The DIHs funded by the EU Commission can boost digitalisation in Europe in an effective way by supporting both the public sector and SMEs to become more competitive in a global market” says Francesco Ferro, CEO of the Spanish SME PAL Robotics.

The catalogue of Digital Innovation Hubs, hosted by the Joint Research Centre in Sevilla, currently includes over 290 operational hubs across Europe, with 200 more in preparation. The hubs span the full digital landscape, including robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, high-performance computing and cybersecurity, as well as its applications in healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture and food production, maintenance and inspection.

Image 2: Location of Digital Innovation Hubs. Source: Digital Innovation Hub Catalogue

Focus on Robotics

Robotics is central to Europe’s Digital Strategy and 196 of the registered DIHs have identified robotics as an area of expertise. In addition, the European Commission awarded 80M € since 2018 to 5 DIH networks with a robotics focus. Each of these brings together one or two dozen DIHs, with the aim of expanding to even more during the project. 

The Horizon 2020 projects Trinity and DIH² focus on Agile production, RIMA promotes the uptake of robotics for inspection and maintenance applications, DIH-HERO facilitates the healthcare robotics sector, and agROBOfood enables the adoption of robotics technologies in the agri-food sector. To coordinate these projects, the Coordination and Support Action (CSA) RODIN started last November with funding of 2M € over five years to cover the whole life-cycle of the network projects. The aim is to present a harmonised interface to the overall landscape of robotics DIHs, coordinate events and calls, share best practice, and connect with similar networks in other areas, such as DIHNET.EU (Next Generation European DIH Network).

Open calls for funding from robotics DIHs

Networks of Networks

DIHNET.EU, the 1M € three-year project launched in November, coordinates the whole network of DIHs in different domains such as robotics, cybersecurity, photonics, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, high-performance-computing, software, big data, agriculture, and more. Think of it as a pan-European network of networks. DIHNET.EU promotes collaboration between DIHs through workshops and events, provides tools and an on-line community platform for DIHs, and is the link to the JRC that maintains the DIH catalogue. The project provides an overview of DIHs to the outside world and helps the European Commission shape DIH-related workshops. To promote the sharing of best practice, DIHNET.EU just launched the Champions Challenge to identify, show and support success stories from mature DIHs that can inspire and guide other DIHs in their developments.

Image 3: Landscape of robotics DIH networks. Source: euRobotics

“The DIHNET.EU project is meant to link all relevant initiatives around DIHs together and to create sustainability. Sharing of best practice, creation of awareness and synergies across application sectors, technologies, and regions will help shape a pan-European business ecosystem” says Reinhard Lafrenz, Secretary General of euRobotics.

Joining forces to boost AI adoption in Europe

Europe is gearing up to launch an Artificial Intelligence Public Private Partnership (AI PPP) that brings together AI, data, and robotics. At its core is a drive to lead the world in the development and deployment of trustworthy AI based on EU fundamental rights, principles and values.

The effort is being led by two well-established associations representing over 400 European organisations from Industry and Research: the Big Data Value Association and euRobotics. A first step in this process saw the launch of a consultation document in Brussels last week entitled “Strategic Research, Innovation and Deployment Agenda for an AI PPP”.

The opportunity for Europe

The strategy document comes on the backdrop of international competition, with every country vying to take the lead in AI.

Roberto Viola, Director-General of the European Commission, DG CONNECT, linked it to the recently disputed European Champions League match between Tottenham and Liverpool, which saw an unexpected roster of teams make the final. “Are you sure that China and the US will lead AI? Watch our planes, watch our industrial robots, watch our cars – why are we so shy about our successes? I’ve been around the world, and I’m always asked how Europe can work with other countries in AI. I don’t think we’ve lost the race, in fact I don’t think it’s a race. If it’s a race, it’s about delivering good services in AI to Europeans. We can be in the final of the Champions league.”

Viola says harmonious cross-fertilisation across three dimensions is needed to make AI a success in Europe. First, the EU needs to mainstream AI in society and the economy. Companies have to find their place, and there is a big role for the public to support AI and its introduction in real scenarios. This is the part missing in the EU, compared to US and China. There is a need for more big public procurement. Second, there is a need to push for research and development in AI through European funding programmes, and third, policy is needed to accompany the development of AI in society.

Photo: Roberto Viola, Director-General of the European Commission, DG CONNECT; Credits: Octavian Carare

Trustworthy AI

Viola says “Europe was one of the first to develop ethical codes in AI, and now everyone is doing it. It shows that we know what is important and the impact and relevance of AI for society.”  Responsible AI was the leitmotif of the day, with everyone highlighting it as Europe’s unique selling point. The message was clear, Europe can do excellent AI, but is leading in terms of deploying it with society in mind. Juha Heikkilä, Head of the Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Unit at the European Commission says “Europe is doing things in a different way – that takes the citizen into account.”

AI Market Opportunity

The combination of big data, advances in algorithms, computing power, and advanced robotics is opening up new market opportunities for AI enabled systems.

Photo: David Bisset, Director – euRobotics, Sonja Zillner, Siemens AG; Credits: Octavian Carare

Sonja Zillner from Siemens, Co-Chief Editor for the strategy, says “the vision is to boost EU industrial competitiveness and lead the world in development and deployment value-driven trustworthy AI”. When asked for their preferred applications for the development of AI, the public requested improved healthcare services, energy efficiency, and availability of trains, as well as increased productivity in digital factories. This led to the realisation, Zillner adds, that “AI is across all sectors. All the sectors are investing. This is an important take-home – working across sectors is really central. We want to leverage AI driven market opportunity, across all sectors.”

A European AI Framework

David Bisset, Executive Director of euRobotics and Co-Chief Editor of the strategy presented an AI Framework that builds on the legal and societal fabric that underpins the impact of AI in Europe. Central to the success of this framework will be an ecosystem that brings together skills, data, and environments to experiment and deploy the technology.  Bisset says “we need data stores, regulatory sandboxes that allow us to test robots in cities without breaking the rules, we need EU regulation that creates a level playing field”. New technologies that work across sectors are needed for sensing, measurement and perception, continuous and integrated knowledge, trustworthy, hybrid decision making, physical and human action and interaction, systems, methodologies, and hardware.

Boosting the adoption of AI in Europe faces several challenges however, including the lack of skills, technology problems, lack of private investment, complexity of deploying products, and the policy and regulation landscape. Bisset says “We need a collective action from all stakeholders to address these challenges – we need an AI Innovation ecosystem”. Stakeholders include researchers, innovators, technology creators, regulators, users, citizens, investors, data suppliers, and application providers.

The implementation of the AI PPP will address the following Working Areas.

WA1: Mobilising the EU AI ecosystem

WA2: Skills and acceptance

WA3: Innovation and market enablers

WA4: Guiding standards and regulation

WA5: Promoting Research Excellence

Words of Wisdom

The event closed with a panel discussion, here are some nuggets of wisdom.

Photo: Panel; Credits: Octavian Carare

“We will not have enough people to treat patients. Without AI, without robotics, it will be a disaster for patients. Whatever the cost, patients will demand their treatments. Treatments will be better, more precise with AI.”  Rolf Roussaint, Director of Anaesthesiology at University Hospital Aachen.

“We need to measure that AI is bringing benefits – measurable AI is important, maybe more important than explainable AI” Henk-Jan Vink, TNO Managing Director Unit ICT.

“We should not be too shy about what the EU is doing in AI – we should be proud.”

“We need to be inclusive, it’s not robotics vs AI. We see robotics and AI as two sides of the same coin. One is a physical instantiation of AI. We need to join forces.” Juha Heikkilä, Head of Unit, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, DG CONNECT, European Commission.

“Don’t fall in love with the technology – researchers are in love with the technology – and industry with profit. Instead we need use cases proving the new benefits for services and impacts on quality of life that AI can bring.” Gabriella Cattaneo, Associate Vice President of IDC4EU European Government Consulting Unit.

“There will be no progress for AI if we can’t find a way for researchers and startups to have access to data.” Hubert Tardieu, ATOS, Advisor to the CEO.

“In China and the US data is not an issue. The EU doesn’t have that data however – or it’s not shared due to concern. Focussing on the citizen is really important, but we also need to push for access to data.” Federico Milani, Deputy Head of Unit, Data Policies and Innovation, DG CONNECT, European Commission.

Call for collaboration

To conclude the event, Thomas Hahn, President of BDVA and Bernd Liepert, President of euRobotics, moderators of this event and the panel, launched a call for participation and collaboration to all European players active in this domain and committed to boost AI adoption in Europe!

Photo: Bernd Liepert, President of euRobotics, Thomas Hahn, President of BDVA, Credits: Octavian Carare

Bucharest was the European capital of robotics for #ERF2019

European Robotics Forum, the most influential meeting of the robotics and AI community, held its 10th anniversary edition in Romania. The event was organized Under the High Patronage of the President of Romania and Under the Patronage of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The most advanced prototypes, high end technology projects, financed under Horizon 2020, were exhibited to be admired and analysed at JW Marriott between 20 and 22 March.

Among the robots that were displayed one could find: the famous REEM-C – the humanoid robot that speaks 9 languages and that costs 1 million euro, QT – the robot especially created to help children who suffer from autism, Trimbot – the gardening robot that will help cut the roses and the bushes, as well as other prototypes that take innovation to the next level. Among the exhibitors we could also find Romanian companies developing advanced software solutions for international robotics companies.

European Robotics Forum was also a great opportunity for a multidisciplinary approach of some essential topics related to the future developments of technology in Europe. 900 experts gathered in over 50 workshops to discuss the future of robotics and AI in a European landscape that is shaping its future more and more under the sign of technology and innovation.

”European Robotics Forum is THE annual event for robotics in Europe, gathering a vibrant community, with more than 900 participants from Robotics and neighbouring communities, such as big data or cybersecurity, offering a unique opportunity for academia and industry to discuss and boost together science and innovation. We count on the robotics community to drive the development of AI in Europe, being at the forefront of the digital transformation for the benefit of our economy and society”, said Lucilla Sioli Director “Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry”, DG Connect, European Commission, during the Opening of the Forum.

”European integration flourishes when industry is strong. Automation through robots and artificial intelligence increases productivity and therefore brings jobs and prosperity to Europe”, thinks Peter Droel, Director, Industrial Technologies, DG Research & Innovation, European Commission.

“The European Robotics Forum 2019 put one more time Romania on the innovation map, highlighting the potential that we hold in the technology field, an extensive area that will dramatically influence the future of all”, said Ana-Maria Stancu, President E-Civis, local organizer of the event and member of the euRobotics Board.

The European Robotics Forum 2019 is organised by euRobotics under SPARC, the Public-Private partnership for Robotics in Europe and hosted by E-Civis Association. ERF2020 will take place in Malaga, Spain, on 3-5 March 2020.

euRobotics Awards 2019

The winners of these prestigious pan-European awards were:

For the Georges Giralt PhD Award 2019 – best European thesis in robotics: Tomic Teodor – Leibniz U Hannover for “Model-Based Control of Flying Robots for Robust Interaction under Wind Influence” and Grazioso Stanislao – Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II – for “Geometric soft robotics: a finite element approach”.

Sevensense Robotics AG received the Third Prize of the Technology Transfer Award 2019, which was handed by Victor Negrescu, Vice-rector SNSPA, former MEP, former Minister for EU Affairs, Romanian Robotics Ambassador.

The Entrepreneurship Award 2019 (First Prize) was given to IM Systems – Jack Schorsch.

ERF2019 was also the perfect opportunity to announce the European Robotics League awards.

See all Awards 2019 winners and finalists

For all the e​vent pictures, check here or below for a small selection.

















European Robotics Week 2018 celebrated with 1200 events in over 30 countries

The European Robotics Week (ERW) is achieving a major success with around 1200 interactive robotics related events across Europe, showing how robots will impact the way we work, live, and learn both now and in the future. Every year the ERW changes the central event and hosts an eco-system of various engaging activities in the chosen location. From 16 to 18 November, Augsburg has been in the spotlight, hosting the Central event of the European Robotics Week 2018 with 1,500 visitors coming to the exhibition over the three days.

On Friday, 16 November, ERW2018 started with an Opening, gathering high-level representatives from industry, research, policy and politics, at the Augsburg Town Hall.

Photo: Lucilla Sioli, Director for “Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry” at DG Connect, European Commission

“The European Commission has been investing in robotics research for over a decade. SPARC, the public-private partnership between the EC and euRobotics, has been particularly successful in bringing together the European robotics community. Europe aims to become world leader in cutting-edge technology and human-centric artificial intelligence (AI). The EC will publish in December a “Coordinated plan on Artificial Intelligence”, developed with Member States so as to address together societal needs such as healthcare, transport or climate change. Additionally, Horizon Europe (the research and innovation program) and the newly-proposed “Digital Europe” programme will address AI. The latter plans to devote about one quarter of its € 9 billion to AI, especially to increase Europe’s capacity in testing facilities as well as in digital capabilities of SMEs through support to digital innovation hubs.

We are also aware of the challenges related to robotics and AI. First, there are the ethical issues, like privacy, accountability, transparency, bias, etc. The Commission tasked a High-Level expert Group to draft a set of ethical guidelines on AI by March next year. Stakeholders from all over Europe are invited to contribute through the “EU Alliance platform”, available online. Guidelines will also help address fears associated to robots, very common in the media. The European Robotics Week can also help and show what robots can really do.  With over 1000 events in more than 30 countries, we hope that the European Robotics Week will attract young people. It will be their opportunity to choose careers in this field.  We need more young people active in these areas. Shortages in skills in engineering, or in data science, risk to block developments and need to be addressed”, explained Lucilla Sioli, Director for “Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry” at DG Connect, European Commission.

From Friday 16 to Sunday 18 November, a robots exhibition, several public talks and activities for adults and children were offered at the Zeughaus.

Photo: Vito di Bari, world’s premiere futurist, innovation strategist and inspirational keynote speaker

“Automation means more work in less time. Consequently, employment goes down, which means prices go down as well. In response to this, demand raises, and employment goes up again. There is one thing we cannot do: we cannot upload new software to people. We need new people with new skills. This has happened already with the automobile industry, the ATM and computers. This is the automation paradox. By 2030, 47% of jobs could be automated, however 565 million more jobs will be created. Not only are we not going to lose jobs because of robots, but jobs will double. Robots will be man’s best friends in the future”, said Vito di Bari, world’s premiere futurist, innovation strategist and inspirational keynote speaker during his presentation “Robots, AI and the Future – Technology vs. Humanity”, held on 17 November, at Zeughaus.

Photo: Group of children and teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina

A group of 30 children and 10 teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, supported by euRobotics and the British Embassy in Sarajevo, visited Augsburg and the robots’ exhibition. “The Central event of ERW2018 in Augsburg was the very first opportunity for children from Bosnia and Herzegovina to see and interact with real industrial and humanoid robots. For some of them this was the very first visit to another country. The educational trip paves the way for the future organisation of even more robotics events in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, said Maja Hadziselimovic, National Coordinator of the European Robotics Week in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Pictures gallery (credits: Visual Outcasts): https://www.eu-robotics.net/sparc/newsroom/galleries/erw2018-pictures-gallery.html


What is happening in Europe?

Around 1200 events showing how robots will impact the way we work, live, and learn have been announced so far. Robotics researchers, Universities and Industry opened their doors Europe-wide, from the very West in Spain to Romania in the East, from far North in Finland, to the Southern reaches of Cyprus.

In Southern Europe, the Italian Scuola di Robotica is organising over 360 events, and in Spain, 300 events are planned, out of which 190 are in Catalonia. Cyprus is organising over 60 events.

In Western Europe, Germany is organising over 130 events, on various topics, with open doors by companies and research institutes alike. In Brussels, Belgium, La maison du livre is proposing some 20 creative events about robots and artificial intelligence, combining cultural, economic, environmental and artistic perspectives.

East Europe is focusing on extending access to new technologies for all. In Romania, e-Civis, the organiser of the European Robotics Forum 2019, is teaching the teachers how to integrate robotics in the curricula and has planned some 60 events. Bosnia Herzegovina and Hungary both organise kids’ workshops on programming and competitions.

See the full list of activities: www.robotics-week.eu

Background of the European Robotics Week

ERW was conceived with the desire of the European Robotics community to bring robotics research and development closer to the public and to build the future Robotics Society. Many more than 500,000 people across Europe have been part of ERW since its first edition in 2011. The European Robotics Week is organised under SPARC, the public-private partnership for robotics between euRobotics and the European Commission.

European Robotics Week 2018 (ERW2018) will take place around Europe on 16-25 November 2018.

www.robotics-week.eu

Robots and jobs

Will a robot take my job?
Media headlines often speculate about robots taking our jobs. We’re told robots will replace swaths of workers from taxi drivers to caregivers. While some believe this will lead to a utopian future where humans live a life of leisure provided for by robots, the dystopian view sees automation as a risk to the very fabric of society. Such hopes and fears have preceded the introduction of new technologies for centuries – the Luddites for example destroyed weaving machines in the 19th century to protest the automation of their sector. What we see, time and time again, is that technology drives productivity and wealth, which translates to more and better jobs down the line. But can we expect the same to happen with robots, or is this time different?

What do the numbers say?
Studies looking at the impact of robots on the job market have contradictory findings. A paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that every robot introduced between 1990 and 2007 coincided with the elimination of 6.2 jobs within the commute area and a slight drop in wages. The International Federation of Robotics however found that from 2010 to 2015, the US industry installed around 135,000 new industrial robots, mainly in the car industry. During this same period, the number of employees in the automotive sector increased by 230,000, which suggests a positive impact on jobs.

Examples of this can also be seen in Amazon warehouses where the introduction of more than 100,000 warehouse robots did not lead to a dip in human labor. In fact, Amazon has added 113,500 people to its company worldwide in the past year.

Other studies have tried to estimate the number of jobs that could be automated in the future, and there again, the numbers vary widely. An Oxford report from 2013 estimated that 47% of U.S. jobs were at risk of automation. The OECD however has said that “14% of jobs in developed countries were highly automatable, with a further 32% likely to experience significant changes to the way they were carried out.”

So which is it, do robots create or destroy jobs? The answer may be “it’s complicated”. Certain professions may disappear in a local community, while the overall number of jobs may increase globally. In any case, the nature of work will most likely change.

Robots perform tasks, not jobs
Most jobs require workers to have more than one skill. Building a fully automated solution would therefore require a robot that masters many different tasks. Making robots is hard however, so they tend to be highly specialised. Imagine all the tasks a cleaner can do, yet it took Dyson 12 years of research just to make a vacuum cleaning robot. The reality is that robots perform tasks, not jobs. It therefore makes sense to think of robots as tools that can be used by people in their workplace, ideally helping with the dull, dirty, or dangerous tasks and boosting productivity. This has spurred a new area of collaborative robots, or cobots, that are easy to work with. ColRobot for example is a European project focussed on building an integrated system for collaborative robotics.

Skills for the new economy
The jobs of today are different from the ones of tomorrow. There is a pressing need to train a new generation of roboticists. This workforce will need to be diverse to ensure the best tools are being built for everyone. Inspiring the future generation is the goal of the European Robotics Week, which hosts more than 1000 events all over Europe. Training is further needed at all levels from school for young children to graduate education programs. But not everyone needs to be a roboticist, being technology literate is the first step towards building environments where humans and robots can work together. And while robots help us with the menial tasks, we have a chance to be “more human”. A carebot won’t replace a caregiver, it will give the caregiver time to have a coffee with their patient. Ultimately, we have the opportunity to focus on the jobs we enjoy most. Creative sectors, and those requiring emotional intelligence and empathy will also be in high demand in the future.

Technology that benefits all
One risk with automation is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of those that design or have access to the technology. Such a winner-takesall scenario would lead to growing inequality between large technology companies and workers. Wages have also stagnated, even though productivity has increased, which is another marker of inequality. At the same time these technologies are becoming increasingly accessible, meaning that non-experts should feel empowered to use them in their own industries and lives. The European Union and individual European governments are actively preparing for a change in labour markets with dedicated commissions and reports, as well as ground work to ensure the robot revolution benefits all. Solutions discussed include taxing automation, providing for a universal basic income, or boosting education, research, and entrepreneurship.

This article is part of a series of briefing documents published on www.eu-robotics.net/sparc. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme under grant agreement n° 688441

Videos from European Robotics Forum 2018


The European Robotics Forum 2018 (ERF2018), the most influential meeting of the robotics community in Europe, took place in Tampere on 13-15 March 2018. ERF2018 brought together over 900 leading scientists, companies, and policymakers.

Under the theme “Robots and Us”, the over 50 workshops cover current societal and technical themes, including human-robot-collaboration and how robotics can improve industrial productivity and service sector operations.

Click on the list below to watch: Opening Ceremony (13 March), euRobotics Awards Ceremony (14 March), Opening reception (13 March), and the following workshops:

The new H2020 robotics projects in the SPARC strategy
EU Projects offering services
Innovation in H2020 projects – EC Innovation Radar Prize 2017
Success Stories – Step Change Results from FP7 Projects
Drafting a Robot Manifesto
Innovation with Robotics in Regional Clusters

Credits: Visual Outcasts, Tampere Talo, Olli Perttula

Projects that will shape the future of robotics win the euRobotics Awards 2018


The European Robotics Forum 2018 (ERF2018) in Tampere brought together over 900 attendees from robotics academia and industry. To bridge the two, euRobotics hosted the Georges Giralt PhD Award 2017 & 2018 and the TechTransfer Award 2018, during a Gala Dinner event on 14 March, in Tampere, Finland.

The aim of the euRobotics Technology Transfer Award (now in its 15th year) is to showcase the impact of robotics research and to raise the profile of technology transfer between science and industry. Outstanding innovations in robot technology and automation that result from cooperative efforts between research and industry are eligible for the prize.

The First prize went to Germany’s Roboception: rc_visard – 3D perception & manipulation for robots made easy team, composed of Michael Suppa, and Heiko Hirschmueller from Roboception GmbH, and Alin Albu-Schaeffer from the Institute of Robotics and German Aerospace Center (DLR).

“This award is a recognition of our institute’s continued efforts of supporting the go-to-market of technologies developed at our institute or – as in this case – derived thereof,” said Prof. Albu-Schaeffer. Dr. Suppa added that “since spinning Roboception off the DLR in 2015, a significant amount of thought, hard work and – first and foremost – unfailing commitment of our team have gone into bringing this technology from a research state to a market-ready product. And we are very proud to see these efforts recognized by the jury, and rewarded with this prestigious award.” The rc_visard is already in operational use in a number of customer projects across a variety of robotic domains. Prof. Albu-Schaeffer, an enthused rc_visard user at his DLR Institute himself, is convinced that “this product is one that will shape the future of robotics, thanks to its unique versatility.”

Watch the an interview with rc_visard filmed at Hannover Messe

The Second prize went to Germany, to the project Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms (MARS), created by a team made up of Timo Blender and Christian Schlegel, from Hochschule Ulm, and Benno Pichlmaier from AGCO GmbH. The MARS experiment aims at the development of small and stream-lined mobile agricultural robot units to fuel a paradigm shift in farming practices. 

The Third prize went to Smart Robots from Italy, a team made up of Paolo Rocco and Andrea Maria Zanchettin, from Politecnico di Milano, and Roberto Rossi, from Smart Robots s.r.l., Italy. Smart robots provides advanced perception and intelligent capabilities to robots, enabling new disruptive forms of collaboration with human beings.

The Finalist was the In situ Fabricator (IF), an autonomous construction robot from Switzerland, with a team made up of Kathrin Dörfler from Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich, NCCR Digital Fabrication, Markus Giftthaler and Timothy Sandy from Agile & Dexterous Robotics Lab, ETH Zurich, NCCR Digital Fabrication.

Technology Transfer Award winners and coordinator Martin Haegele. Credits: Visual Outcasts

The members of jury of the TechTransfer Award were: Susanne Bieller (Eunited Robotics), Rainer Bischoff (KUKA), Georg von Wichert (Siemens), Herman Bruyninckx (KU Leuven), Martin Haegele (Fraunhofer IPA). The euRobotics TechTransfer Award 2018 is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme.

The Georges Giralt PhD Award showcased the best PhD theses defended during 2017 and 2018 in European universities from all areas of robotics

The 2017 edition saw 41 submissions from 11 countries. The jury composed of 26 academics from 16 European countries awarded:

Winner: Johannes Englsberger, Technical University of Munich, Germany – Combining reduced dynamics models and whole-body control for agile humanoid locomotion

Finalists:

  • Christian Forster, University of Zurich, Switzerland – Visual Inertial Odometry and Active Dense Reconstruction for Mobile Robots
  • Stefan Groothuis, University of Twente, the Netherlands – On the Modeling, Design, and Control of Compliant Robotic Manipulators
  • Meng Guo, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden – Hybrid Control of Multi-robot Systems under Complex Temporal Tasks
  • Nanda van der Stap, University of Twente, the Netherlands – Image-based endoscope navigation and clinical applications
Georges Giralt PhD Award 2017 winners and coordinator Gianluca Antonelli. Credits: Visual Outcasts

The 2018 edition saw 27 submissions from 11 countries. The jury composed of 26 academics from 16 European countries awarded:

Winners:

  • Frank Bonnet, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland – Shoaling with fish: using miniature robotic agents to close the interaction loop with groups of zebrafish Danior rerio
  • Daniel Leidner, University of Bremen, Germany – Cognitive Reasoning for Compliant Robot Manipulation

Finalists:

  • Adrià Colomé Figueras, University Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain – Bimanual Robot Skills: MP Encoding and Dimensionality Reduction
  • Đula Nađ, University of Zagreb, Croatia – Guidance and control of autonomous underwater agents with acoustically aided navigation
  • Angel Santamaria-Navarro, University Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain – Visual Guidance of Unmanned Aerial Manipulators
Georges Giralt PhD Award 2018 winners and coordinator Gianluca Antonelli. Credits: Visual Outcasts

The Ceremony saw the handing of the European Robotics League (ERL) Awards: ERL Industrial Robots and ERL Service Robots, and ERL Emergency Robots. Points are awarded by attending local and major tournaments, not a central event, with three main objectives: strengthening the European robotics industry, pushing innovative autonomous systems for emergency response, and addressing societal challenges of aging populations in Europe. The European Robotics League is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme. 

Read the ERL Awards press release: European Robotics League winners revealed in Tampere, Finland (Season 2017/18)

 

European Robotics League winners revealed at #ERF2018

Award winners in robot competitions held by the were named on 14 March 2018, during this year’s European Robotics Forum (ERF), held in Tampere, Finland on 13–15 March.

Awards for the ERL’s 2017-18 season were presented at a Gala Dinner to winning teams that took part in all ERL competitions: Service Robots (ERL-SR), Industry Robots (ERL-IR) and Emergency Robots (ERL-ER).

ERL-SR is for robots that could provide assistance in homes, particularly for people with reduced mobility. ERL-ER is for robots in simulated emergency situations and ERL-IR tackles automation in industry.

Dozens of teams from around Europe took part in the 2017–18 ERL competitions, which stimulate innovation by and collaboration among robotics researchers by setting tasks in simulated real-life conditions, for completion against the clock.

The challenges include understanding natural speech, finding and retrieving objects, greeting visitors, supplying medical aid kits, and stopping simulated radioactive leaks. The teams’ technical approaches could find their way into future commercial robots and could be suitable for a wide range of non-robotics uses in all areas of life.

ERL teams are ranked on their end-of-year scores for various task and functionality challenges, using the best two participations in tournaments. The following teams were awarded on stage during the ERF2018 Awards Gala Dinner.

ERL Service Robots:

  • homer@UniKoblenz, Germany, won the first prize for: Task Benchmark 1 “Getting to Know My Home”; Task Benchmark 2 “Welcoming Visitors”; Task Benchmark 3  “Catering for Granny Annie’s Comfort”; Task Benchmark 5 “General Purpose Service Robot (GPSR)”;
  • HEARTS, Bristol, UK, won the first prize for: Task Benchmark 2 “Welcoming Visitors”; Functionality Benchmark 3 “Speech Recognition”;
  • IRI@ERL, Barcelona, Spain, won the first prize for: Task Benchmark 2 “Welcoming Visitors”; Task Benchmark 3 “Catering for Granny Annie’s Comfort”;
  • RoboticsLab UC3M, Madrid, Spain, won the first prize for Task Benchmark 4 “Visit My Home”;
  • SocRob@Home, Lisbon, Portugal, won the first prize for: Task Benchmark 1 “Getting to Know My Home”.

European Robotics League Service Awardees 2017-2018 and Coordinators. Credits: Visual Outcasts

ERL Industry Robots:

  • b-it-bots Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University, Bonn, Germany, won the first prize for: Functionality Benchmark 4 “Navigation Functionality”.

European Robotics League Industry Awardees 2017-2018 and Coordinators. Credits: Visual Outcasts

ERL Emergency Robots:

  • IMM – Janusz Bedzowski won the first prize for: Task Benchmark 2 (Land + Air) “Survey the building and search for missing workers”; Functionality Benchmark 1 “2D Mapping Functionality” (Land + Air);

The Grand Challenge Task Benchmark 1 (land + sea + air) was won by:

  • Universitat de Girona – Eric Pairet who won also the first prize for: Task Benchmark 4 (Land + Sea) “Stem the leak”; Functionality Benchmark 3 (Sea) “Object Detection”; Task Benchmark 3 (Sea + Air) “Pipe inspection & search for missing workers”;
  • Telerob – Andreas Ciossek who won also the first prize for: Task Benchmark 4 (Land + Sea) “Stem the leak”; Functionality Benchmark 2 (Land + Air) “Object Recognition”;
  • ISEP/INESC – Alfredo Martins who won also the first prize for: Task Benchmark 3 (Sea + Air) “Pipe inspection and search for missing workers”; Functionality Benchmark 2 “Object Recognition” (Land + Air).

European Robotics League Emergency Awardees 2017-2018 and Coordinators. Credits: Visual Outcasts

The ERL-ER prizes for task challenges were awarded during the Awards Ceremony for the emergency robots competition held at Piombino, Italy on 15-23 September 2017.

European Robotics League
The European Robotics League (ERL) is the successor to the RoCKIn, euRathlon and EuRoC robotics competitions, funded by the EU and designed to foster scientific progress and innovation in cognitive systems and robotics. The ERL is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and runs competitions for service (ERL-SR), industrial (ERL-IR) and emergency robots (ERL-ER). See:
The latest ERL-SR scores can be found here.

The latest ERL-IR scores can be found here

The latest ERL-ER scores can be found here.

European Robotics Forum 2018: Over 900 roboticists meet in Tampere, Finland

The European Robotics Forum 2018 (ERF2018), the most influential meeting of the robotics community in Europe, takes place in Tampere on 13-15 March 2018. ERF brings together over 900 leading scientists, companies, and policymakers for the largest robotics networking event in Europe.

Under the theme “Robots and Us”, the over 50 workshops cover current societal and technical themes, including human-robot-collaboration and how robotics can improve industrial productivity and service sector operations.

During the opening the ERF2018, on 13 March, Juha Heikkilä, Head of unit, EC DG CNECT, explained that “the European Robotics Forum has been instrumental in breaking down silos and bringing together a strong, integrated robotics community in Europe. This year’s theme, “Robots and Us”, reflects the increasingly broad impact of robotics and allows discussing not just technology but also the all-important non-technological aspects of robotics.”

Bernd Liepert, President of euRobotics and Chief Innovation Officer at KUKA highlighted that ““Robots and us” implies that we need to put significant work in topics such as safe human-robot interaction on the technical side, but also raise awareness about the offerings of modern technology to the wider public.”

Anne Berner, Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland, emphasized in her keynote that “digitalization and robotics require changes in mindset from both the public and the private sector in Finland. We, as the public side, create a framework for change, but the responsibility for implementing lies with companies. Robotics and automation walk on the road paved with data. Data that is not shared is benefitting no one. Data needs to be combined with other data and then refined and enriched with knowledge to create value”.

Tomas Hedenborg, President of Orgalime and Group CEO of Fastems, added that “in the era of digitalization, automation and more specifically robotization, is in the core of the transformation. The huge innovation potential includes major societal challenges that need to be tackled in parallel.” 

The end of the Opening saw a panel discussion about “How should the society prepare for the rapid development of robotics” with the keynote speakers and representatives of the local organisers.

Photo, from left to right: Tomas Hedenborg, Orgalime/Fastems; Marketta Niemelä, VTT; Minna Lanz, Tampere University of Technology; Jyrki Kasvi, Finish MP; Bernd Liepert, euRobotics/KUKA; Thomas Pilz, Pilz; Juha Heikkilä, EC

The conference showcases the newest research in the field, and the projects funded under EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme. By bringing together over 50 sponsors and exhibitors, amongst them Fastems, KUKA and Sandvik (Platinum sponsors) and Schunk (Gold sponsor), the event offers a unique window to the European robotics, also putting the spotlight on the Nordic markets.

ERF2018 had the honour to welcome Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, who visited the exhibition area and gave a speech at the reception hosted by the Tampere City Hall.


Photo from left to right: Anna-Kaisa Heinämäki, Deputy Mayor of City of Tampere; Bernd Liepert, President of euRobotics; Reinhard Lafrenz, euRobotics Secretary General; Jyrki Latokartano from The Robotics Society in Finland; Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions

The Awards Ceremony on 14 March will announce the winners of the Georges Giralt PhD Award 2017 and 2018, the TechTransfer Award 2018 and the European Robotics League Service and Emergency Robots Season 2017-2018.

After its start in San Sebastian in 2010, The European Robotics Forums has grown into a major annual event with hundreds of attendees every year. In 2017, the conference was held in Edinburgh.

The European Robotics Forum is organised by euRobotics under SPARC, the Public-Private partnership for Robotics in Europe.  ERF2018 is hosted by The Robotics Society in Finland in collaboration with Tampere University of Technology.

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