ERF 2018 workshop deadline extended to 15 October
The deadline for proposing workshops to be held during next year's European Robotics Forum (ERF) on 13–15 March 2018 has been extended to 15 October.
euRobotics is keen to receive proposals on any topics, but particularly in the association’s four focus areas: healthcare; inspection and maintenance of infrastructure; agri-food; and agile production.
For example, application and technical workshops could cover: end-user needs; ethical, legal, social and economical topics; and artificial intelligence.
You can help to make the ERF an even bigger success in 2018 than this year’s event, by running your own workshop to celebrate Europe's leadership in robotics.
For more information contact email@example.com.
Host European Robotics Forum 2019
You could host the 2019 version of the European Robotics Forum (ERF), in mid-March 2019 — express your interest now.
The host, which must be an euRobotics member, will be at the centre of Europe’s most influential robotics meeting, as hundreds of experts gather to discuss technical and non-technical robotics topics, including markets and ethics, and boost their collaboration.
Learn more about the forum and about the 2017 ERF here and about ERF 2018 in Tampere in Finland, from 13─15 March 2018, here.
Send expressions of interest in hosting ERF 2019 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teams shine at ERL Emergency 2017
Teams and robots produced some great results against the clock at the European Robotics League (ERL) Emergency Robots competition at Piombino, Italy, despite the challenging conditions and often the need for rapid robot updates and repairs.
Robot sensing, locomotion, autonomy and cooperation showed how robots could support rescue workers after emergencies, to save lives and limit environmental consequences of disasters. The Piombino scenario corresponded to a post-earthquake, post-tsunami nuclear power station site.
The teams, mainly of students, used air + land, air + water and land + water robots. In the ERL Emergency Grand Challenge air + land + water robots worked together, to find lost ‘workers’ and to stop simulated radioactive leaks.
“The energy, enthusiasm and spirit of cooperation among the teams competing in ERL Emergency was amazing. We witnessed not only great performances from the teams and their robots, but also the drama and excitement of last-minute field repairs and workarounds to the robots,” said Alan Winfield, ERL Coordinator and professor of robot ethics at the University of the West of England in the UK.
The award for the best performance in the Grand Challenge went to the partnership of three teams: Telerob of Germany (land robot) + Universitat de Girona, Spain (underwater robot) + ISEP/INESc TEC Aerial from Portugal (aerial robot).
The Grand Challenge second-place award went to the aerial robot team IISPIOMBINO CVP Team from a Piombino high-school and its competition partner Robdos-IMM Team, from Spain and Poland, which contributed water and aerial robots.
The third-place Grand Challenge award went to Raptors from Poland (land and aerial robots) and its partner the Oubot from Hungary (underwater robot).
There were also land + air, sea + air and sea + land awards and special referee awards in recognition of the hard work, creativity and cooperation shown by and between teams at Piombino.
The ERL Emergency project manager, Marta Palau Franco of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK, said: “Behind a multi-domain competition there is always a large technical committee. I feel privileged to have worked with such an amazing team of volunteer referees, technical assistants and safety pilots and divers. We were delighted to give these awards to recognise teams’ efforts, fair play and hard work. I hope the experience of participating in this robotics competition helps team members to develop further their professional career.”
“ERL Emergency 2017 was a very interesting event for advancing the state of the art of autonomous robots for multi-domain field applications,” said Marc Carreras, of the University of Girona team.
“As with robots from the other two domains, aerial teams struggled with communication issues to properly command and control their platforms. This further confirms the need for autonomous capabilities onboard the aerial robots, to become even more powerful tools for emergency response teams,” said Francisco Javier Pérez Grau, of the Advanced Center for Aerospace Technologies (CATEC) team.
Andreas Ciossek of the Telerob team saw “impressive improvements” in aerial robots since the Piombino event’s predecessor in 2015.
European Commission outlines Horizon 2020 ICT work programme
Robots and robotics feature throughout the draft 2018–20 information and communication technologies (ICT) work programme that the European Commission has published for its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The final document will be published by the end of the year.
The Commission claimed that the draft provides a balanced response to the need to maintain a strong expertise in key technologies and to turn research into products more quickly. It supports mediumlong-term industrial strategies with new mechanisms to encourage “disruptive innovation”.
The six main activities in the Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies part are: a new generation of components and systems; advanced computing; future internet; content technologies and information management; robotics; and micro- and nano-electronic technologies and photonics.
The Work Programme also addresses the wider questions of cyber-security, the internet of things and research on a human-centric digital age.
Find more information about ICT and the work programme here and about work programmes in general here
Call for UN to control killer robots
More than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence companies have called on the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (UN CCW) to work hard to prevent an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons.
In an open letter, signed by several euRobotics members, the group said it felt "especially responsible in raising this alarm" and was willing to provide technical advice to the CCW, which has set up a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapon systems.
However, it criticised the cancellation of the GCE's first meeting planned for 21 August because of non-payment of contributions to the CCW by some countries. A new meeting is planned for November, after enough payments had been received.
The open letter said that lethal autonomous weapons could become the third revolution in warfare: "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.
"We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close. We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers."
Signatories to the open letter included Jaap van Leeuwen, founder and chief executive of Blue Ocean Robotics Benelux, of the Netherlands, Richard Greenhill and Rich Walker, founders and managing director of Shadow Robot Company, of the UK and Geoff Pegman, founder and managing director of R U Robots, of the UK.
Minimum wage increases spurs automation, says study
Companies are likely to automate low-skilled jobs in response to increases in the minimum wage, according to two economics professors.
Using US census data from 1980-2015, Grace Lordan, associate professor in health economics at the London School of Economics, and David Neumark, professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine, found that "increasing the minimum wage decreases significantly the share of automatable employment held by low-skilled workers, and increases the likelihood that low-skilled workers in automatable jobs become unemployed."
The effects varied greatly between industries and demographic groups, with worse effects for older, low-skilled workers in manufacturing, they said in a paper: "The findings imply that groups often ignored in the minimum wage literature are in fact quite vulnerable to employment changes and job loss because of automation following a minimum wage increase."
The research was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research of the US. In March 2017 it published a study that found that the increase in industrial robot usage in the US 1990–2007 could reduce local employment and wages.
"We estimate large and robust negative effects of robots on employment and wages across commuting zones. We bolster this evidence by showing that the commuting zones most exposed to robots in the post-1990 era do not exhibit any differential trends before 1990," said Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, who carried out the study. "According to our estimates, one more robot per thousand workers reduces the employment-to-population ratio by about 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25–0.5%."
Robotic eel targeted at water pollution
Researchers at Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a robotic eel to find pollution sources in water.
The 1.5m-long Envirobot can be controlled remotely and can swim on its own. It comprises modules that each contain a small electric motor. The motors make the robot snake smoothly through the water without stirring up mud or annoying aquatic life.
Chambers in the modules can contain conductivity, temperature and other sensors.
The chambers can also contain bacteria, small crustaceans and fish cells that work as biological sensors of different types and levels of pollutants when the chambers fill with water. Laboratory testing showed the approach to be effective, claimed the developers.
"For example, we developed bacteria that generate light when exposed to very low concentrations of mercury," says Jan Roelof van der Meer, project coordinator and head of the Department of Fundamental Microbiology at the University of Lausanne. "We can detect those changes using luminometers and then transmit the data in the form of electrical signals."
The team has also used Daphnia, which are tiny crustaceans less than 5mm long, whose movement is affected by water toxicity. With Daphnia in a module chamber containing clean water and other Daphnia in a chamber containing water taken in while Environbot swims around, the team can track the movement of the Daphnia in each chamber to judge the water's toxicity.
In one Lake Geneva trial, Envirobot mapped variations in conductivity resulting from the the addition of salt to the water and created a temperature map of the area.
In future, Envirobot could follow pre-programmed paths or follow the direction of increasing water toxicity to autonomously zero in on the source of pollution, said the developers.
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Underwater vehicles get a boost
Autonomous underwater vehicles for tasks such as mapping the ocean floor and detecting mines could in future recharge their batteries using wireless technology, thanks to a proof of concept that used a mobile phone in a plastic bag.
US military researchers positioned the phone on a submerged charging pad to show that underwater vehicles could charge their batteries without needing to return to a land base or a surface ship.
The researchers at the US Department of Defence's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centre Pacific (SPAWAR) would like to see a set of standards for underwater wireless power transfer devices.
“Unmanned and autonomous systems are used extensively for Navy missions,” said Dr. Alex Phipps, chief of SPAWAR's advanced integrated circuit technology branch. “While most of these systems are able to perform their mission without human interaction, limitations in the amount of power that can be stored place a limit on the overall system autonomy.”
Engineer Dr. Graham Sanborn said: "It’s a safer, more cost-effective option that we’re really excited about.”
IFR reports on service robot market
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) will reveal its latest market forecasts and the impact of robot innovation on 11 October 2017. The organisation’s new World Robotics Service Robots 2017 report will also highlight robot research within the European Union. The Germany-based IFR estimates that nearly 32m robots for domestic tasks, with a value of nearly €10bn, will be sold in 2018–20, as well as about 400,000 professional service robots worth nearly €16bn.
Cash for research software
Bidding is now open until 31 December 2017 for up to £25,000 (€28,438) offered by Digital Science for ideas that promise to help science and further research. The UK company, which invests in scientific software companies, is promising to support at least two early-stage ideas in the latest round of its Catalyst Grant programme, which was launched in 2012 to support software tools and technologies for research.
Wanted: Puma controller
The Fraunhofer IPA research organisation of Stuttgart, Germany is desperately looking for a functioning controller and teaching pendant for an Ultimate Puma 560 robot, a popular model in the 1980s. If you have one to offer it could find its way into an exhibition of 50 years of robotics research and innovation that the euRobotics founding member has set up. If you can help, contact Martin Haelgele on Martin.Haegele@ipa.fraunhofer.de and earn an honourable mention in the exhibition.
Blue Ocean heads east
Danish company and euRobotics member Blue Ocean Robotics has opened a South-east Asian joint venture in Singapore in response to what it called a demand for robots driven by a rapidly ageing society and a government promise to spend SGD450m (US$330m) in 2016–2019 in its National Robotics Programme.
The partners of Blue Ocean, an euRobotics member, are Peter Tan, who has a background in automation and robotics, and C. L. Goh, the founder of MMI Systems, an industrial test equipment and robotics automation in data storage company.
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Embrace creativity, says engineering institution
The UK's Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has called for the importance of creativity in engineering to be recognised and for engineering courses not to be limited to those students who have studied maths and physics subjects. However, the IET, which offers scholarships for students to study engineering study at university, welcomed the news of a slight increase over the previous year in the numbers of students taking A-level exams in maths and physics.
The German government said that it would implement what it called the world's first guidelines for automated driving, weeks after the UK government published cyber protection guidance principles for smart vehicles
The UK move was part of its proposed autonomous and electric vehicle legislation intended to create a framework for self-driving vehicle insurance and to keep safety and consumer protection "at the heart of the emerging autonomous vehicle industry".
The proposed German rules include making the protection of human life a priority, with vehicles damaging property or injuring animals rather than causing human death or injury, and not using factors such as age, sex, race and disability to decide who to avoid if an accident is unavoidable.
An autonomous vehicle driver should also decide how vehicle data should be distributed and used, said a report by the Ethics Commission of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. The 14 members of the commission includes scientists and experts from ethics, law and technology.
"The interaction between man and machine raises new ethical questions during this time of digitisation and self-learning systems," said German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt.
A German law introduced earlier this year, to allow the testing of autonomous vehicles, required a human to be behind the wheel of all 'driverless' cars, ready to take over at the sign of trouble.
Start with design
The UK guidance calls for manufacturers to design out cyber security threats, to limit threats such as hackers gaining access to personal data, stealing cars that use keyless entry, or taking control of technology.
The principles include: organisational security is owned, governed and promoted at company board level; security risks are assessed and managed appropriately and proportionately, including in the supply chain; product after-care and incident response to ensure systems are secure over their lifetime; all organisations work together to enhance security; systems are designed using a defence-in-depth approach; the security of all software is managed throughout its lifetime; data storage and transmission are secure and can be controlled; and the system is designed to be resilient to attacks.
Meanwhile, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has claimed that ‘connected’ and automated cars could reduce road accidents, traffic congestion, traffic pollution and energy use, as well as increase productivity, comfort and accessibility.
However, a JRC report, to be used by the Commission in developing automated vehicle policy and regulation, found that the complexity of the road transport system and uncertainty about the impact of the technologies could lead to negative effects and unintended consequences. For example, it said that a higher demand for vehicles and continued preference for individual car ownership could mean more congestion and reduced road safety.
Vehicle automation means fewer crashes, says study
Inattention by the driver due to overreliance on vehicle automation was one reason for the fatal crash in 2016 of a Tesla car, said the National Transportation Safety Board of the US.
The design of the vehicle automation permitted the driver’s overreliance and “allowed prolonged disengagement from the driving task and enabled the driver to use it in ways inconsistent with manufacturer guidance and warnings”, said a preliminary report by the NTSB.
A further factor behind the crash with a truck was the truck driver’s failure to yield right of way to the Tesla driver, it added.
However, a US study has found that automated driving assistance technology cuts the probability and the severity of some types of car crashes.
Lane departure warning lowers rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes of all severities by 11% and lowers the rates of injury crashes of the same types by 21%, according to research by Jessica Cicchini, vice-president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of the US. She said that if all passenger vehicles in the US had lane departure warning systems, nearly 85,000 police-reported crashes and more than 55,000 injuries would have been prevented in 2015.
"This is the first evidence that lane departure warning is working to prevent crashes of passenger vehicles on US roads," said Cicchino.
The vehicles in the study all had a forward collision warning system in addition to a lane departure warning system, making it difficult to separate the effects. The systems produced audible alerts or vibration but did not steer the vehicles.
Blind spot success
A separate Cicchino study showed that blind spot detection systems reduced lane-change crashes by 14% and lane-change crashes resulting in injuries by 23%. The inclusion of blind spot detection systems in all US passenger vehicles would prevent about 50,000 police-reported accidents a year, she said.
"Blind spot detection systems work by providing additional information to the driver. It's still up to the driver to pay attention to that information and use it to make decisions," Cicchino said.
Other studies (of US truck fleets and of Volvo cars in Sweden) have found larger benefits of lane departure warning, but Cicchino said that US drivers often disabled lane departure warning systems and a 2016 IIHS study found that 34% of drivers in 631 lane-drift crashes were physically incapacitated.
The studies controlled for driver age, gender, insurance risk level and other factors.
Public wary of driverless cars
Two UK surveys show strong caution among the public about travelling in driverless vehicles, along with a strong wish to retain some control.
There was also a lack of knowledge about driverless cars, with one survey, by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), finding that that 50% of the public thought that humans were better drivers than autonomous cars, despite 90% of UK road accidents being the result of driver error.
The IMechE found that 66% of those questioned would be uncomfortable being a passenger in a driverless car travelling at high speed, with older people and women particularly wary.
Among younger people, 45% of 25–36-year-olds said that they would be comfortable in a 110km/hour driverless car, compared to 13% of 65–74-year-olds and 8% of over-75s. Women tended to be more cautious, with 72% uncomfortable compared with 60% for men.
A separate UK survey, for the UK Autodrive autonomous vehicle project, found that 35% of those surveyed said that they would use such a vehicle (without a driver or steering wheel) with only 15% strongly opposed to the idea.
Known but little understood
Also, 76% of respondents had heard of driverless vehicles, compared with driver assistance technologies already on the market, such as adaptive cruise control (40% of those surveyed), automated emergency braking (38%) and lane-keeping systems (34%).
However, the survey, by researchers in the engineering and psychology departments of Cambridge University in the UK, found that 85% wanted to retain some control over the choice of route and 74% wanted an option to drive manually.
Although 80% felt that self-driving vehicles would help people with impairments or disabilities, the IMechE survey found that only 23% wanted to let a sight-impaired people be the only person in a driverless car. Just 12% said that it would be acceptable for drunk people to be responsible for driverless cars.
In the UK Autodrive survey, 15% of people said that they would use driverless cars after drinking alcohol.
Pat Langdon, principal research associate at the University of Cambridge Engineering Design Centre, said: “There is obviously still plenty to be done in terms of educating the public — particularly when it comes to the potential benefits this technology could bring — but there is already lots of positivity in these initial findings.”
Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the IMechE, said: “Given the huge benefits to this technology it is vital for government and manufacturers to develop a public campaign with more demonstrations and user trials to build awareness and trust in this technology."
UK funds platooning trials
The UK government is to spend £8.1m (€9.2m) on trials of platooning, in which up to three heavy good vehicles, or lorries, travel in convoy, accelerating, braking and steering in sync through wireless technology.
The government claimed that platooning could have "major benefits for motorists and businesses in the UK. A row of lorries driving closer together could see the front truck pushing the air out of the way, making the vehicles in the convoy more efficient, lowering emissions and improving air quality".
In the trials, the vehicles will be controlled by the lead vehicle and each lorry will always have a driver to take control at any time.
The government funding will pay for trials by the Transport Research Laboratory of semi-autonomous platooning, initially on the test track and on major roads by the end of 2018. Similar trials have been carried out elsewhere in Europe and in the US.
Firms develop data infrastructure for connected cars
Seven companies have set up a group to develop a cloud infrastructure for 'intelligent driving' of connected cars, the creation of maps with real-time data and driving assistance.
The Automotive Edge Computing Consortium (DENSO, Ericsson, Intel, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), NTT DOCOMO, Toyota InfoTechnology Center and Toyota Motor) will try to increase network capacity to handle automotive data between vehicles and the cloud.
It said that data flow between vehicles and the cloud would reach an estimated 10 exabytes per month by 2025, or about 10,000 times larger than today's volume. That would need new network and computing infrastructure architectures to support distributed resources and topology-aware storage capacity, it said.
The consortium said that it would encourage best practices and help to develop standards, as well as trying to expand the consortium.Go back
Put SPARC projects on to the radar
You have until 15 October 2017 to vote for your favourite robotics projects in a European Commission competition to identify Europe's top innovators and their innovations. Three EU-funded projects under SPARC are among the 48 finalists for the Innovation Radar Prize 2017.
The three are:
• Bots2Rec and Robotnik, in the ‘Early stage’ category, for their work on mobile robotic units for the removal of asbestos contamination. Vote here
• AEROARMS and CATEC, in the ‘Industrial and enabling tech’ category for their work on aerial manipulation. Vote here
• RoMAns and Isybot in the ‘Industrial and enabling tech’ category for their work on slave arm for teleoperation in the nuclear industry. Vote here
You can vote for more than one candidate per category.
ERW prepares to wow the world
Girls and women in technology and the role of robots in building a European identity and encouraging the young to acquire the skills needed for robotics will feature in the central event in Brussels of this year’s European Robotics Week (ERW) on 20–24 November 2017. The event will also consider the importance of robots for Europe’s regions.
On 21 November in Brussels there will be a debate by experts, an exhibition of robots developed under the FP7 and Horizon 2020 research and innovation programmes of the European Union, workshops for young and old and a one-month hackathon sponsored by P&G.
ERW will also feature a wide range of local events for the public around Europe — more than 100 so far and counting. You can find your nearest events here.
Set up your own event, at your factory, in your laboratory, in a public space or elsewhere. Contact your local ERW coordinator to turn your idea into reality and register your event here.
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
Save the date
The next SPARC Brokerage Day will take place in Brussels on 6 December 2017.The robotics community of scientists, robot manufacturers, users of robotics technology, and other stakeholders will learn about cooperation options and the upcoming European Commission calls in the Horizon 2020 work programme 2018–20.More information hereGo back
9–10 November 2017
ICT Proposers' Day, Horizon 2020 programme 2018–20
14–17 November 2017
Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 2 Infoweek
Digitisation of the farming and food sectors and related research and innovation will be discussed on 17 November 2017 during a European Union week on societal challenges under its Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
17–26 November 2017
European Robotics Week ― ERW2017. Central event in Brussels, Belgium on 21 November 2017.
6 December 2017
SPARC Brokerage Day
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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).