News from the SPARC public-private European robotics partnership and from Europe's robotics sector.
Regions report successes
Parliament considers next move on robot rules
Horizon 2020 delivers strongly, says European Commission
Emergency robots prove their worth
Automation good for jobs, says study
SPARC promises brighter future
Public gives mixed messages on robotics
Good home wanted — European Robotics Forum 2019
Talking 'bout a revolution
China outpaces EU on ICT growth
Bristol hosts first UK service robot tournament
German green light for automated driving
Enthuse the public at European Robotics Week 2017
Odense in Denmark was one of several regions represented at a recent conference that put their success at stimulating a thriving robotics and automation economy down to the use of a cluster approach.
At a Digitising European industry meeting in Brussels on 14 June, organised by the European Regions Research and Innovation Network and Microsoft, Henrik Brændstrup of the Odense robotics cluster claimed that the cluster structure was essential to its success in fostering innovation and boosting the economy. He said that automation and robotics employment totalled 2,600 jobs in more than 100 companies, with an expected 6,000 jobs by 2020.
At the meeting, the euRobotics secretary general Reinhard Lafrenz promoted the SPARC robotics partnership. He also chaired much of the meeting, at which Microsoft, the Satakunta region in Finland, Scottish Enterprise and others presented their digitalisation ideas.
Meanwhile, at the Smart regions with smart robots meeting on 10 May 2017, Tuscany, Bristol, Ȋle-de-France, Madrid – RoboCity 2030, Andalusia and RoboValley of Delft all revealed regional or city-based success stories.
The European Commission told the meeting that its Smart specialisation of regions programme helps regions to foster research, innovation and entrepreneurship, attract investment and jobs, involve local SMEs and authorities, and attract users to test technology in public spaces. euRobotics was one of the organisers of the smart regions meeting in Brussels.
Dr. Bernd Liepert, the euRobotics president, said: “Robotics is now sufficiently mature to improve productivity in many industrial and civil applications. This is a particular chance for regions with high unemployment, since robots create jobs, which has been proven by economists.”
The European Commission’s Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology outlined its digitalisation and regional policies. With the backing of the EU’s Committee of the Regions, it will provide €500 million from its Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme for Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). It wants a DIH in every EU region, offering companies access to digital technologies and expertise within their regions.
Find the Smart regions with smart robots meeting presentations here.
Find two euRobotics background papers here and here.
The European Parliament is now digesting the results of a public consultation on its proposed civil law rules on robotics, in a move towards possible European Union (EU) regulations.
In the consultation, which ended on 31 May, euRobotics told the European Parliament that its proposed rules would deter research institutions and industry from investing in robotics, just as robotics competition from outside the EU is growing.
Based on input from its members, euRobotics also told MEPs that the proposals would lead to unacceptable bureaucracy, which would damage badly small and medium-sized enterprises.
It also pointed to confusion in the Parliament’s document about the distinctions between robots, artificial intelligence and software. It called for work to ensure a better and more realistic understanding of the risks and opportunities associated with robotics, including the possible effects of robotics on employment.
The Parliament’s document, published on 16 February 2017, included non-binding recommendations to the European Commission, which is responsible for initiating potential EU legislation.
The euRobotics submission was based on the views of its member researchers and companies and input from the European Robotics Association (EUnited Robotics), which is part of the European Engineering Industries Association (EUnited).
euRobotics doubted that it would be possible or useful to introduce single laws for the four wide groupings of robots proposed by the Parliament: autonomous transport; care robots; medical robots; and human repair and enhancement systems. It said that existing and possible standards are likely to be more effective that new laws in ensuring safety and a thriving market.
euRobotics also said that the robotics sector should be involved in drawing up any ethical guidelines for robot use, which should also be voluntary.
The euRobotics response is summarised here, in a document based on a paper by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, Germany.
Find the Parliament’s resolution here.
Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme, is a clear success, but substantial underfunding has meant the rejection of many “excellent” proposals for support, claimed the European Commission.
An extra €60 billion would have been needed to support all the excellent proposals for grants, on top of the €20.4 billion allocated in the three years to the end of 2016, according to an interim evaluation published on 29 May 2017. Horizon 2020 has an €80 billion budget over seven years.
The Commission said that “there is significant added value of implementing Horizon 2020 funding through the use of contractual [public-private partnerships] PPPs”, such as the PPP for robotics SPARC. But it added that most PPPs have not been running long enough to evaluate their performance.
A total of 11,108 Horizon 2020 grants were signed by 2017 in response to 100,000 proposals. The Commission called the low success rate “a loss for Europe” of excellent research. It put the total cost of preparing proposals at about €636 million a year and said that the low success rate meant a waste of resources for applicants.
Jobs and growth
The Commission claimed that Horizon 2020, which funds euRobotics and the public-private robotics partnership SPARC was on track to help create jobs and growth, tackle societal challenges and improve lives, and that 83% of projects that it funded would not have gone ahead without EU support. More than half of the Horizon 2020 participants did not take part in its predecessor, the 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7).
The Commission will use the review results to design the final Horizon 2020 Work Programme (2018-20) and as evidence for the High Level Group on maximising the impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes. This group will present its report at a Research and innovation: shaping our future conference in Brussels on 3 July 2017 and the Commission will respond in a Communication expected in the autumn.
Find the review here.
Piombino in Italy will be the focus in September of efforts by robots to respond to realistic emergency scenarios, in the European Robotics League (ERL) Emergency Grand Challenge.
The competition will require cooperation between robots travelling on land, under water and through the air at the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, with international teams surveying the scene, collecting data, searching for missing workers and identifying critical hazards, all in a race against the clock.
The ERL competition was inspired by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan on 11 March 2011, which resulted from a tsunami following a major earthquake.
Toshiba of Japan and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID) have just said that, in the middle of the year, they will use a submersible robot to inspect the damaged primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor.
The underwater robot is 13cm in diameter — small enough to slip into the containment vessel through a 14cm-diameter opening. It will be used to locate nuclear fuel and other debris in reactor coolant that is up to about 6m deep, so that the power station operator, Tokyo Electric Power, can plan a clean-up.
The radiation-hardened robot is 30cm long, with front and rear facing video cameras and LED lights. It is powered and remotely controlled via wire, and operators can control its progress through the coolant of the containment vessel with five thrusters, four at the rear and one at the front.
Toshiba has previously developed remotely-operated inspection robots for Fukushima. IRID and Toshiba developed a scorpion-like small robot to inspect the interior of Unit 2’s primary containment vessel in February 2017.
Piombino will see teams competing in equally challenging conditions. Find information about the event here.
Story revised on 8 August 2017
Automation has created jobs and increased wages and robots increase productivity and competitiveness, according to research by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
Overall, the greatest threat to employment is not automation but an inability to remain competitive, concluded the IFR, whose members are companies, industry associations and research and development centres.
It said that because of the ability of robots to complement and augment labour, in the future robots and humans will work together.
However, it called for governments and companies to focus on providing current and future workers with the right skills if robots are to continue having a positive impact on employment, job quality and wages.
It cited a recent study that found that investment in robots contributed 10% of growth in GDP per capita in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries from 1993 to 2016. The study found that a one-unit increase in robotics density (the number of robots per million hours worked) is associated with a 0.04% increase in labour productivity.
The OECD itself found that companies that use new technology effectively are 2-10 times more productive than those that do not.
In good news for workers, IFR said that:
● robots have increased wages without reducing hours worked;
● jobs have grown faster in occupations using automation;
● countries that invested more in robots lost fewer manufacturing jobs than those that did not; and
● less than 10% of jobs can be fully automated.
Find the IFR study here.
The EU robotics partnership ― SPARC ― has committed itself to increased activity to boost robotics innovation and exploitation.
In a paper submitted at the end of May 2017 to the European Commission, which set up SPARC as a public-private partnership with the robotics research and industry association euRobotics AISBL, SPARC outlined a wide range of measures.
Those include using euRobotics members’ expertise to spread the message about robotics and providing more support for the European Robotics League.
The greater workload will be possible thanks to the recent appointment by euRobotics of an operations officer, Jory Buhay, and of a communications officer, Vic Wyman, for RockEU2, which is a Commission-funded coordination project for Europe’s robotics community.
A major aim of SPARC is to improve communications, to explain robotics to the wider world and to potential users of the technologies. That includes addressing ethical, legal, social and and economical issues.
Contacts between euRobotics members will also be strengthened, to try to increase collaboration and commercial exploitation.
A strategy is being developed for the long-term sustainability of EU robotics collaboration, if there is no follow-on to the RockEU2 project which ends in February.
A majority (61%) of EU citizens view robots and artificial intelligence (AI) positively, says a report by the European Union’s Eurobarometer agency.
However, 74% said that the use of robots and AI would result in more jobs being lost than created, while 72% believed that the technologies would steal people’s jobs. Of those questioned for the Attitudes towards the impact of digitisation and automation on daily life report, 44% felt that their current jobs could be done at least partly by a robot or AI.
Although 88% believed that careful management of robots and AI was needed, 68% thought robots and AI good for society because they can help people in their jobs and at home. Also, 84% of respondents agreed that robots were needed for jobs that were too hard or dangerous for people.
Recent digital technologies were seen as having a positive impact on the economy by 75% of respondents, on the quality of their lives (67%) and on society (64%).
Although most respondents (85%) had not used a robot at home or at work, 35% said that they would be comfortable with robot help at work ― although that was 12 percentage points lower than in a 2014 survey.
There was a 4 percentage point decline to 26% since 2014 in the share of respondents claiming that they would be comfortable having a robot providing services and companionship when infirm or old.
The survey also found that 26% of respondents would be comfortable with a robot surgeon operating on them (2 percentage points up on 2014) and 22% would be comfortable being driven in traffic in a driverless car.
Find the Eurobarometer report here.
The European Robotics Forum (ERF) is now inviting expressions of interest from euRobotics members who are interested in hosting the 2019 version of the event, to be held in mid-March 2019.
The event will put the host at the centre of the most influential robotics meeting in Europe, with hundreds of experts discussing technical and non-technical robotics topics, such as markets and ethics.
The ERF is a chance for those attending to influence decision makers and strengthen the collaboration in the robotics community.
The application form for potential 2019 hosts with dates and other details will be finalised soon, but send expressions of interest to euRobotics (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The 2018 ERF will be held in Tampere in Finland, from 13─15 March 2018. Learn more about the forum and about the 2017 ERF here.
New skills, new ways to organise business and investments in data and science are needed for "the next production revolution" based on robotics and other advances, according to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report.
The Next production revolution report also calls for governments to introduce demand-side policies to boost investment in, and adoption of, enabling systems such as information and communications technology, especially by smaller firms. It also wants policies to promote open standards and to support the development of skills.
The report considers the opportunities and challenges for business and government as a result of digital technologies (such as 3D-printing), new materials, and new processes (such as artificial intelligence) that are expected to fuel a production revolution.
The report says that trust and long-term thinking are needed for public acceptance of new production technologies.
Find the report here.
The information and communications technology (ICT) sector in the European Union (EU) grew by a factor of 2.3 in the 20 years to 2014, according to a recent report.
However, China overtook the EU, Japan and South Korea to take second position behind the US and ahead of the EU in ICT value added, according to the latest figures, for 2014, says the ICT research and development (R&D) Predict report by the EU’s Joint Research Council (JRC).
Globally, ICT services represented 73.1% of the total value added in ICT in 2014. The 40 countries surveyed included Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.
In ICT services, telecommunications was the most R&D-intensive sub-sector and had the highest labour productivity. In 2015, it took 30.4% of total public ICT spending and computer and related activities took 69.6%.
The high R&D intensity and productivity levels make ICT strategic for productivity growth, says the JRC. In the EU, the sector employed 5.7 million people in 2014.
The Predict report contributed to the recent Europe's Digital Progress Report. Europe’s robotics community is already implementing the key components of the European Commission’s Digitisation of European Industry strategy — hubs, platforms and pilots, standardisation, regulatory framework and skills. The strategy is also reflected in the input from the private side of the SPARC public-private partnership.
Find the JRC report here.
The European Robotics League (ERL) will hold its first UK service robots contest on 26-30 June 2017, at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) in Bristol.
The event will be held in BRL’s Anchor Robotics Personalised Assisted Living Studio which was recently certified for use as an ERL Service Robots test-bed.
BRL is a partnership of the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol.
The ERL holds local tournaments in research laboratories across Europe, with certified test-beds, and a few major tournaments. Teams participate in at least two tournaments per year.
Find more information here.
Germany passed what it claimed was "the most modern road traffic law in the world" on 12 May 2017 to allow automated driving.
The law gives human and computer drivers legal equality, according to the German government. It will allow highly- or fully-automated systems to take over driving completely and drivers to take their hands off the wheel.
The German federal transport ministry says that a driver will only be required to take back control if asked to do so by the automated system or if conditions demand it (e.g. a tyre bursts).
The law also requires vehicles to have a data storage blackbox to show whether a human or computer was driving.
The law is expected to be revised in 2019 to take account of technical advances and it is believed that data protection rules have yet to be agreed.
Find the ministry announcement in German here.
Make this year's European Robotics Week (ERW) on 18─21 November 2017 an even bigger success than last year's, by running your own event to celebrate Europe's leadership in robotics.
Researchers, universities and industry across Europe throw open their doors during the ERW to run hundreds of events for the public.
There was a record 830-plus events in 2016 to inform and enthuse the public.
Events can be: small or big; for adults, children or both; in your factory; in your laboratory; in a school; in a shopping centre; or anywhere else.
The form and venue are down to your creativity as you let the world know about your robotics work and what the public can look forward to in the future.
26–30 June 2017
ERL Service Robots local tournament
28–31 August 2017
ERL Service Robots major tournament
Part of IEEE RO-MAN 2017
28 August–1 September 2017
26th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication ― RO-MAN 2017
Includes a European Robotics League Service Robots challenge.
15–23 September 2017
ERL Emergency Robots major tournament
24–28 September 2017
IEEE/Robotics Society of Japan International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems
9–10 November 2017
ICT Proposers' Day, Horizon 2020 programme 2018–20
18–26 November 2017
European Robotics Week ― ERW2017
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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).