Success stories: SPARC-ing an interest in the future European Robotics Society

Robotics will change the way we work, live, and explore new frontiers. In this original 10+-article series, expert spanning the breadth and width of European robotics have expressed their views on how technologies such as: 3D printing, prosthetics and assistive living, robots for minimally invasive surgery and diagnostics, automated farming and mining, inspection of critical structures in the air and under water, will alter our society as we know it. Articles highlighted the start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are disrupting current markets and creating new ones, but most importantly, we have delved dive deep into the key questions on everyone’s mind, about the impact of robots on policy, the economy, and jobs.

All summarised posts can be found below.

  • Smart regions with smart robots - a winning formula

About 200 robotics experts and local, regional, and national authorities discussed how to develop regional innovation strategies based on robotics at the “Smart regions with smart robots” event in Brussels on 10 May at the Committee of Regions.

Read more about smart regions with smart robots

  • New Horizon 2020 robotics projects - 2016

In 2016, the European Union co-funded 17 new robotics projects from the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for research and innovation.  16 of these resulted from the robotics work programme, and 1 project resulted from the Societal Challenges part of Horizon 2020. The robotics work programme implements the robotics strategy developed by SPARC, the Public-Private Partnership for Robotics in Europe (see the Strategic Research Agenda).

At the European Robotics Forum 2017, on 22-24 March 2017, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, all projects presented themselves during a dedicated workshop. 

Watch the videos with all Horizon2020 projects presentations, as well as the FP7 projects results

Every week, euRobotics will publish a video interview with each project, so that you can find out more about their activities.

  • European Robotics Week #ERW2016 (follow up articles)

What ethical issues do we face in providing robot care for the elderly? Is there better acceptance with the public? What should we be mindful of when designing human-robot interactions? At the #ERW2016 central event, held in Amsterdam 18-22 November, these questions (and more) were discussed, debated, and encouraged by expert panellists hailing from research, industry, academia, and government as well as insightful members in the community.

Considering robot care, ethics & future tech at #ERW2016 European Robotics Week

Technology is a means not an end: Experts on robotics for elderly care at #ERW2016

  • The Robot Economy: Interviews

Robots and their impact on the economy is on the forefront of everyone’s mind. Will robots increase productivity and jobs, improve society, and will wealth be shared? To address this question, have been talking to three European Experts about the robot economy.

Interview with Alan Winfield, Professor at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and expert in robot regulation and ethics. He is often invited to discuss the role of robots in society, including at the World Economic Forum, the Royal Society, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

How will robots impact the economy? Read Alan Winfield’s answers in Part 1 of the 10th article focusing on European Robotics

Interview with Alan Manning, Professor of Labour Economics at the London School of Economics. He is a leading author in his field, particularly in understanding the imperfections of labour markets.

How will robots impact the economy? Read Alan Manning’s answers in Part 2 of the 10th article focusing on European Robotics

Interview with MEP Mady Delvaux, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Chair of the Working Group on robotics. Mady has written an extensive draft report "Civil Law Rules on Robotics,” and proposes the creation of a legal framework for automation and ways to promote European industry. Read Mady Delvaux's answers in Part 3 of the 10th article focusing on European Robotics

  • Exoskeletons: From helping people walk to controlling robots in space

44 million people aged between 15 and 64 report a basic activity difficulty, with the most prominent disabilities centered around lifting and carrying, walking, bending, sitting or standing. Strokes alone touch 1.1 million Europeans each year, often resulting in a loss of upper- or lower-limb mobility. Helping the young and old regain mobility is therefore a top priority with important social and economic impact.

Read about exoskeletons as external support systems for the body in the 9th article focusing on European Robotics

  • Automatica’s exhibitors were trumpeting Industry 4.0. Is this the turning point for robotics?

Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution – was the main theme at the largest robot and automation fair in the world, Germany’s AUTOMATICA, which took place in Munich on 21-24 June. But what exactly is Industry 4.0 and how do developers and manufacturers big and small believe it will revolutionise production?

Read our review on the SPARC website

  • Mining and Nuclear Decommissioning: Robots in Dangerous and Dirty Areas

Workers have long confronted dangerous and dirty jobs. They’ve had to dig to the bottom of mines, or put themselves in harm’s way to decommission ageing nuclear sites. It’s time to make these jobs safer and more efficient, robots are just starting to provide the necessary tools.

Read about robots in mining and nuclear decommissioning on the SPARC website

  • Building a startup ecosystem for robotics in Europe

It’s an exciting time to have a startup in robotics. The European startup ecosystem is improving year-after-year and provides networking, mentoring and funding opportunities. The aim is to build a vibrant startup scene capable of rivaling the main hubs around the world. And with a number of success stories over the past year, this could happen soon.

Founded in 2005 by three researchers at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Universal Robots quickly grew to become one of the top producers of collaborative robots. The company was acquired by Teledyne last year for more than €300M. This is just one example in a string of European robotics companies acquired in the past year.

Read all the stories on the SPARC website

  • Farming with robots

Farmers are increasingly under pressure to feed more people. The UN predicts that the world population will rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050. This growing population has become pickier about the food they eat. In the EU alone, the organic market grew by 7.4% in 2014 with sales valued at €24 billion. Beyond organic food, there is an overall push to make farming greener by using less water and pesticides.

“Agriculture is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but it’s also one of its causes”, says Birgit Schulz from Deepfield Robotics. “Making cultivation sustainable is essential”.

Enter the robots — set to improve production yield, while reducing resources required, and making farming an exciting high-tech profession.

Given the potential, Europe has funded at least 6 projects around robotic farming. Read more about them on the SPARC website

  • What to expect from autonomous cars?

Over 25,700 people died in car crashes in the European Union in 2014, and 200,000 came home with life-changing injuries.

Autonomous cars promise to make roads safer, while giving us extra time for work or leisure. This could result in billions of Euros for the economy thanks to increased productivity, and a projected €40.3 billion in end-customer spending this year. Autonomous cars will also have a social impact, as those who have lost the ability to drive regain independence. And the hope is that it will lead to a greener world thanks to transport sharing and more efficient traffic management.

So what can we expect to see on the roads in the future, and what are the challenges ahead?

Find the answer on the SPARC website

  • Robots that will help you in your silver age

By 2020, a quarter of Europeans will be over 60. In their silver age, many would like to stay in their homes and will require care from family or social workers. Unfortunately, the number of caregivers is diminishing year-after-year due to shifting demographics and an increase in working families. This leads to a ‘care deficit’ that poses a major challenge to most European societies. And today’s social workers are often hard pressed, wishing they had more time to connect with the people they care for, rather than the minuted dance of tasks that need to be done. It’s also hard physical work requiring workers to bend over up to 1300 times per shift .

So, how can robotics technology help as you grow older? Find the answer on the SPARC website

  • Why making robots is still hard

Most robots are required to operate without being plugged into a power socket. This means they need to carry their own energy source, be it a battery pack or gas tank. Small drones can typically operate for less than 1 hour, which is also the battery life of most advanced humanoids. So by the time the robot has walked out the door and made a few steps, it’s time for a power recharge.

Progress is being made, and a push for batteries that allow our laptops and cellphones to work for days on end is also powering the increase in robot run time. Larger batteries could give a robot more power, but will also make it heavier, which then requires more energy to move the robot.

Beyond power, efficiency is also a real challenge. For example, human muscles are capable of impressive strength, yet many robot manipulators don’t have strength to carry heavy loads.

So why is it difficult to make robots?... Find the answer on the SPARC website

  • Creating new markets for SMEs

Europe’s roadmap for robotics, updated last December, highlights a future where robots break from their traditional stronghold in the manufacturing sector to power healthcare, agriculture, transport, civil, consumer, and commercial applications.

Historically, Europe was known for manufacturing and supplying nearly one third of the world’s industrial robots, with companies like ABB, Comau, KUKA, and Schunk leading the way. This is changing with a rise in companies worldwide producing industrial robots. There is now a realisation that beyond big industry, SMEs are becoming the powerhouse of Europe.

Read the whole story on the SPARC website

Articles have been published every two weeks on the SPARC portal and Robohub. Funding for the series was provided by RockEU – a Coordination and Support Action funded under FP7 by the European Commission, Grant Agreement Number 611247.