Newsletter November-December 2017
 

CONTENTS

NEWS

Robots reach out during European Robotics Week

Robotics Digital Innovation Hubs go public

European Commission addresses digital skills gap

Start-ups boost service robot growth, says IFR

Insurers reject mandatory robot insurance

Funding promised for drones for cities

Robby the Robot sold for record price


SPARC/euROBOTICS NEWS

euRobotics supports AI platform development

Robotics Digital Innovation Hubs — January workshops

Become a euRobotics board director

Give us your views on participation in fairs


EUROPEAN ROBOTICS LEAGUE
NEWS

Robots compete in real-life conditions in Barcelona

Deadline this month for European Robotics League competition in Spain


EVENTS

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NEWS

Robots reach out during European Robotics Week

Thousands of people were introduced to the wonders and potential of robotics at more than 900 events held during the European Robotics Week (ERW) at the end of November.

The ERW saw Europe’s robotics experts throwing open the doors of research centres and factories to the public and holding a wide range of other events, for both adults and children.

The aim of the annual ERW is to showcase the robotics expertise spread throughout the European Union (EU) and to help the public to understand how robotics is already benefiting them in many walks of life. The ERW events also give the public a first look at some of the robotics advances that could shape their lives for the better in future.

The public also learned that individual technologies developed specifically for robots, such as vision and sensing systems, could find their way into many other non-robotic products for use at work and in the home.

As well as events held throughout Europe, the ERW focused on the potential benefits of robotics for the regions of the EU, including investment and jobs.

ERW events at the EU’s Committee of the Regions (CoR) in Brussels included an exhibition of robotics research projects funded by the European Commission, in the CoR’s four core areas of work: health; education; the environment; and international cooperation, including support after disasters.

The CoR vice-president, Markku Markkula, said that robotics fitted in well with the programme of the CoR, which gives local and regional representatives a voice in EU policymaking. Robotics could break open “the ice of policymaking”, he said.

The European Commission also spelled out details of the robotics Digital Innovation Hubs that it plans to support under the next round (2018–20) of its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Cécile Huet, Deputy Head of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communication Networks, Content and Technology, said that the commission would provide up to €500 million over five years to support networks of DIHs. The DIHs are intended to put digital technologies and expertise within ‘working distance’ of organisations anywhere in Europe. Funding was also expected from national, regional, local and EU sources.

DIHs would offer access to knowledge, technical support, users, finance, training, and coaching in innovation, said Huet. The focus would be on services for small and medium-sized enterprises, which should benefit from more than half of the DIH budgets.

Brussels also saw a demonstration of the driverless robobus, which has been on trial on public roads in Finland since last year.

Find local robotics events held during the ERW and contacts by searching here.

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Robotics Digital Innovation Hubs go public

Nearly 100 participants learned more about robotics Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs), which the European Commission plans to support around Europe, at a euRobotics robotics brokerage day on 6 December 2017.

The commission explained how DIHs will fit into the 2018–20 work programme of its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It expects the DIHs to focus on four robotics priority areas: healthcare; infrastructure inspection and maintenance; agri-food; and agile manufacturing. It hopes that DIHs will also attract national, regional and other sources of funding.

The robotics part of the Work Programme in 2018 will not fund research directly — only networks of DIHs to provide services, plus a Coordination and Support Action. Research and Innovation Actions (RIAs) and Innovation Actions (IAs) focusing on core technologies and application areas will be covered by Horizon 2020 calls in 2019–20.

You can find more details of the 6 December meeting here

Presentations and other material will be available soon on the euRobotics website.

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European Commission addresses digital skills gap

The impact of digitisation on society, business and education was the focus of the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition Conference on 7 December 2017, organised by the European Commission.

At the meeting in Brussels, the European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, outlined her ‘vision for future digital skills policy in Europe’. She also launched a Digital Opportunity traineeship scheme and handed out the European Digital Skills Awards 2017.

The meeting considered progress by the European Commission’s Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, which was launched in December 2016 to tackle digital skills gaps. The coalition has more than 280 members.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) warned that the country's engineering skills crisis would deepen without a fundamental change in the education of children about the 'made world'.

UK schoolchildren had little exposure to or understanding of engineering and most therefore chose to study subjects which effectively ruled out engineering careers, said the IMechE's We don’t know what it is, but we think it’s important: the culture of engineering in schools report. “Although students have a vague sense of engineering’s value, its low visibility in schools means they do not feel informed or confident enough to consider it as a future career,” it said.

It concluded: “The UK’s failure to integrate engineering in curriculum threatens country's economy and productivity.” It added that UK engineering was one of the least diverse professions in the developed world, with only 9% of all engineers being women.

At the end of November, the UK government’s new industrial strategy promised £406 million (€460 million) to help address the shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths skills.

Information and background material about the digital skills conference are available here

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Start-ups boost service robot growth, says IFR

Start-ups account for 29% of all robot companies and the variety and number account partly for the growing interest in service robotics, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

Furthermore, large companies are increasingly investing in robotics, often through the acquisition of start-ups,” said Martin Hägele, of the IFR Service Robot Group, and of the Fraunhofer IPA research organisation.

In a growing service robot market, about 290 of 700 companies supplying service robots are European, about 240 are North American and about 130 Asian, said the IFR in its latest review of the market.

It said that there were about 200 service robot start-ups in the US, compared with 170 in the European Union plus Switzerland and 135 in Asia. Service robotics has become a focus for public policies to support entrepreneurial activity, it said.

The IFR projected that sales of service robots for professional use would increase by 12% in 2017 to a record $5.2 billion (€4.4 billion). And its long-term forecast was positive, with projected average annual growth of 20–25% in 2018–20.

In terms of value, the sales forecast 2018–20 indicates a cumulative volume of around $27 billion for the professional service segment”, says Gudrun Litzenberger, the IFR general secretary. “Robots for medical, logistics and field services are the most significant contributors.”

The IFR also expected rapid growth in the market for personal service robots to help humans in their daily lives, such as vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and window cleaners, with sales of domestic robots projected to reach about $11 billion in 2018–20.

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Insurers reject mandatory robot insurance

Europe’s insurance sector has rejected the idea of compulsory liability insurance for robots and artificial intelligence, claiming that the technologies did not meet all the necessary conditions.

In a briefing paper, the Insurance Europe federation, which represents insurance associations around Europe, said that there was not enough claims data or enough similarity of risks for the many different liabilities associated with robots. It added that, because the market was still developing, there was also not enough insurance capacity, competition or reinsurance capacity.

The idea of compulsory cover for robots was raised in February 2017 by the European Parliament, which asked the European Commission to consider it as part of the development of civil law rules for robotics. The commission is expected to respond to the parliament early in 2018.

Insurance Europe said that the introduction of compulsory insurance for robotics would “deter insurers from entering the market or developing innovative and tailored products. If entrepreneurs were unable to buy statutory insurance, this could in turn stifle EU innovation in robotics”.

Inappropriate compulsory insurance could do more harm than good, it said: “Actually making life more difficult for individuals, businesses and insurers”.

The unwillingness of insurers to offer inappropriate compulsory cover could leave businesses and individuals unprotected, for example, or require them to buy more cover than they needed, with others under-insured because of inflexibility in distinguishing between risk levels. Lack of data, lack of capacity and extra costs for insurers could all contribute to higher insurance premiums, said Insurance Europe.

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Funding promised for drones for cities

The UK government has launched the Flying High Challenge to support up to five cities in drone research and development that could “transform critical services”, typically in emergency health care and organ transport and assessment and repair of essential infrastructure.

The government said that the scheme would allow cities and people to collaborate with public services users, business, government and regulators to develop drones for cities.

There will be £500,000 (€567,000) for the scheme, which would be run by the innovation organisations Nesta and Innovate UK. Cities have been invited to register their interest.

Meanwhile, the UK government proposed to introduce new laws for drones next year, including giving the police more powers to deal with the illegal and unsafe use of drones.

The police would be able to order operators to ground drones and to seize drone parts to prove that offences had been committed. The government wants drone users to have to pass safety awareness tests, to register drones weighing more than 250g and to use apps to access information needed to make flights safe and legal. Drones could also be banned from flying above 130m or near airports.

The government claimed that the laws would help to make the UK the leading drone developer, so that the technology “could revolutionise businesses and public services”.

It claimed that it was working with drone manufacturers on geo-fencing to prevent drones from entering restricted zones.

The proposals follow a government consultation on drones.

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Robby the Robot sold for record price

One of the best-known ‘robots’ of the past — the famous movie star Robby the Robot — has been sold for $5.3 million at auction.

Robby was a movie prop, built for the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Plant, but featured in several later films. The price paid at an auction by Bonhams in New York made Robby, which was sold with his Jeep, the world’s most valuable movie prop.

Robby, which was worn by an actor, was a key character and plot device in Forbidden Planet and was a friend of humans. It cost the huge sum of $100,000 to build, from materials that included Royalite plastic, metal, rubber, wood, acetate, and Perspex. It stood more than 2m tall and weighed more than 54kg.

Perhaps you should hang on to your robots …

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SPARC/euROBOTICS NEWS

euRobotics supports AI platform development

A wide range of ideas emerged at a meeting hosted by euRobotics in October to react to a European Commission proposal to spend €20m on a collaborative platform to commercialise artificial intelligence (AI).

The proposed platform was intended to help to turn research results into practical uses, rather than to support AI research, said the commission, avoiding expertise going to waste by addressing technical and ‘softer’ barriers to exploitation of research.

DG Connect wants a ‘one-stop shop’ platform that can supply AI support on demand, to increase private investment in areas in which the EU could take a lead globally. It suggested that support could include help for researchers and companies to collaborate, data libraries, and algorithm quality checks.

Cécile Huet, deputy head of robotics and AI in DG Connect, said that the platform should boost industrial competitiveness and provide citizens with the benefits of AI.

There was no agreement at the meeting about the best form of a platform, ahead of the commission's call for bids expected in April 2018, followed by a second call in 2020.

Meanwhile, a report for the UK government on how to boost AI in the country called for measures such as creating 200 more PhD places in AI and expanding an existing data science institute into a national institute also covering AI.

The report, by computer scientist Professor Dame Wendy Hall and BenevolentTech chief executive Jérôme Pesenti, produced 18 recommendations.

Because of the UK’s current and historical strengths in this area we are in a strong position to lead rather than follow in both the development of the technology and its deployment in all sectors of industry, education and government,” said the pair.

They quoted an Accenture estimate that AI could add $814 billion (€693 billion) to the UK economy by 2035, increasing the annual growth rate of gross value added from 2.5% to 3.9%.

The data science institute that Hall and Pesenti want expanded is the Alan Turing Institute, which five UK universities and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council created in 2015 at a cost of £42 million (€48 million).

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Robotics Digital Innovation Hubs — January workshops

Learn more about the European Commission's plan for robotics Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) covering Healthcare and Agile Manufacturing at two one-day SPARC workshops on 10 and 11 January 2018.

The DIHs will be supported under the 2018–20 work programme of the commission's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, which was the subject of an euRobotics robotics brokerage day on 6 December 2017.

The January workshops will be in Brussels, Belgium and places will be limited. Registration will open soon.

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Become a euRobotics Board member

You have until the end of January to stand for election as a member of the euRobotics Board of Directors. Following the statutes changes in 2016, the 24-member board (half from research, half from industry) will now be renewed on a rolling basis with the election of eight board members per year.

Details of how to submit nominations will be communicated soon.

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Give us your views on participation in fairs

To better serve the European robotics community, euRobotics has launched a survey to understand what sort of participation in fairs and similar events its members and others would prefer.

The survey results will help euRobotics to focus its activities better in the future.
Please fill in the survey
here

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EUROPEAN ROBOTICS LEAGUE NEWS

Robots compete in real-life conditions in Barcelona

The headquarters of PAL Robotics offered an important real-life learning environment when international teams competed in a European Robotics League (ERL) Service Robots competition in Barcelona, Spain.

The robots entered by five teams faced challenges in a simulated home environment, which tested the robots' ability to help people with age-related impairments or disabilities in their daily lives. Future commercial versions of such assistive robots could help people to remain independent for longer.
At the contest, held on 22–24 November 2017 as part of the European Robotics Week, PAL Robotics provided a simulated home of an old woman who cannot get out of bed. The robots — competing against the clock — had to receive and recognise a doctor, a postman and a messenger. The challenges included recognising objects and understanding natural speech.

"This is not just scientific stuff but robots are put in real environments and have to be there to solve actual tasks," said a member of the HOMER team, from the University of Koblenz in Germany. "That’s quite a problem because the robot needs to be robust, needs to interact with humans, needs to recognise objects."

"In the lab where I’m based, which is at Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK, it’s quite a sterile environment, quite clinical. Things are organised, there’s a lot of clutter," added a HEARTS team member. "But when you come to an environment like this, which is more representative of a real home, there is quite a lot to learn about uncertainty, things not being quite what you expect them to be. It’s more of a realistic environment. And that’s what has been so valuable about the competition, that we can come here and test our robot in a realistic environment."

The ERL is an EU-funded initiative that also runs competitions for industry and emergency robots.

The Barcelona teams were: homer@UniKoblenz, from the University of Koblenz-Landau, Koblenz, Germany; Robotics Lab UC3M, from Universidad Carlos III (UC3M), Madrid, Spain; IRI@ERL, from the Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial, CSIC-UPC, Barcelona, Spain; the Healthcare Engineering and Assistive Robotics Technology Systems (HEARTS), from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK; and SocRob@HOME, from the Institute for Systems and Robotics (ISR) of the Instituto Superior Técnico University, Lisbon, Portugal.

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Deadline this month for European Robotics League competition in Spain

Teams have until 18 December 2017 to apply to take part in the eighth Local Tournament in this season’s European Robotics League (ERL) Service Robots competition, to be held in León, Spain on 22–26 January 2018.

That is also the deadline for applications for travel support.

The successful applicants will be able to celebrate their selection during the coming holiday period, as the ERL will name the five teams selected for the competition on 22 December.

The competition will be held at the Leon@Home Test Bed at the Módulo de Investigación en Cibernética (MIC) at the University of León, in León.
Find the rules of the competition
here

Find out more details and how to apply here

Contact:
Vicente Matellán Olivera
Depto. Ing. Mecánica, Informática y Aeroespacial
Universidad de León
Escuela de Ingenierías Industrial e Informática
Campus de Vegazana s/n, 24071 León
Tel: +34 987 291 743
Email: vicente.matellan@unileon.es

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EVENTS

10 and 11 January 2018

There will be additional SPARC-driven Information and Brokerageworkshops on Digital Innovation Hubs in Healthcare on 10 Jan. 2018 and Agile Production on 11 Jan. 2018

The workshops will be in the BluePoint Building (former Diamant), Brussels, Belgium

Details to follow

 

22–26 January 2018

ERL Service Robots Local Tournament
León, Spain

Details here

 

13–15 March 2018

European Robotics Forum

Tampere, Finland

Details here

 

1–5 October 2018

IROS 2018 — IEEE/RSJ conference on intelligent robots and systems

Madrid, Spain

Details here

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GET INVOLVED

Please send comments and suggestions for items for future newsletters to vic.wyman@eu-robotics.net, +32 2 706 8368

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euRobotics AISBL is a Brussels-based international non-profit association supporting research, development and innovation in robotics. It is based in Brussels and has more than 250 member organisations. www.eu-robotics.net

Under the European Union's framework program Horizon 2020, euRobotics and the European Commission formed the public-private partnership SPARC, which has €700 million of funding from the Commission in 2014–20 to extend Europe’s leadership in civilian robotics.

SPARC includes the European Robotics League, which is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Website: www.robotics-league.eu. Twitter: @ERLrobotleague. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ERLrobotleague.

The RockEU2 Coordination Action is funded by the European Commission within the H2020 Framework programme (H2020-ICT-688441; February 2016–January 2018).

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