December 05, 2014      

EU goal is to create 240,000 jobs through robotics. Towards that goal the European Commission pledged $860 million (?700 million) and euRobotics $2.8 billion (?2.1 billion).

?Robot-based automation solutions are essential to overcome today?s most pressing societal challenges – from demographic change to mobility to sustainable production?.
? Bernd Liepert, President of euRobotics
?Europe needs to be a producer and not merely a consumer of robots. Integrating robots into European industry helps us create and keep jobs in Europe.?
?Neelie Kroes, European Commission VP

The horizon ahead

The European Commission (EC) has launched the second Call for Proposals under one of the main robotics themes of its flagship Horizon 2020 Program, and confirmed its intention to fund projects advancing industrial and service robotics technologies in the healthcare, consumer and transport sectors.

horizon 2020 logo

The EC hopes that projects awarded funding under this round of the LEIT (Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies ICT-24-2015) program will ‘significantly improve’ European expertise in these sectors by focusing on several areas, including ‘adaptability, cognitive ability, configurability, decisional autonomy, dependability, flexibility, interaction capability, manipulation ability, motion capability and perception ability.’

In doing so, the Commission has set aside $61.4 million (?50 million) of the $102 million (?83 million) on offer for research and innovation actions to advance ‘key robotics technologies’ in fields like cognition, human-robot interaction (HRI), mechatronics, navigation and perception.

“Step changes in performance are necessary in many key technologies, such as mechatronics, human robot interaction, systems development and cognition,” says Cecile Huet, Deputy Head of Robotics Unit-A2 at the EC Directorate-General CONNECT.

Projects targeting technology combinations such as grasping and dexterous manipulation, physical HRI, mobile manipulation and reactive planning are also encouraged, particularly those developing ‘enabling’ robotics technologies like exoskeletons or prostheses for amputees and people with limb disabilities.

“For this, robots will have to be endowed with some cognitive capabilities to reach the desired level of autonomy, to be sufficiently robust and to be able to adapt to various situations. They will also have to be safe and easy to use when they cooperate with humans,” adds Huet.

Collaboration

collaboration horizon 2020

As part of the Call, the EC is also keen on accelerating ‘cross-fertilization’ between academic and industrial robotics research teams to ‘strengthen synergies between their respective research agendas through joint industrially-relevant scenarios, shared research infrastructures and joint small-to-medium-scale experiments with industrial platforms.’

Proposals likely to get the green light in this area are those that demonstrate technology transfer in professional or service robotics in areas including ‘manufacturing, commercial, civil, agriculture, healthcare, consumer or transport.’

The Commission has already made moves in this direction with the establishment of SPARC, the ‘Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for Robotics in Europe,’ which helped to set priorities for the second Call as part of its Strategic Research Agenda for Robotics in Europe (SRA) – as well as the ECHORD++ project and the continent-wide network of Robotics Innovation Facilities (RIFs).

“For several years we have strongly promoted industry-academia cooperation via our activities, such as the development of the PPP, and via priorities set in the EC Robotics programme,” says Huet.

“Such cross-fertilization is important because we expect it to play a major role in technology transfer and to greatly help combating fragmentation among the various actors along the value chain,” she adds.

Next Steps

Ahead of next year’s 14th April deadline, organizations around Europe will now be busy preparing bids for a slice of the $102 million (?83 million) on offer for robotics projects under this round of the LEIT Horizon 2020 program.

Huet also reveals that the Commission plans to sign grant agreements for the robotics projects awarded a total of $91 million (?74 million) under the Horizon 2020 ICT-23-2014: Robotics theme before the end of 2014, with the projects themselves being announced ‘shortly after.’

Next February also sees the proposal deadline for two other Horizon 2020 Calls of interest to the European robotics sector under the Factories of the Future programme – FoF-9-2015, which promotes application experiments for ‘highly flexible and near-autonomous robotics systems’ and FoF-11-2015, which is focused on flexible production systems based on integrated tools for rapid reconfiguration of machinery and robots.

See related: Research that Matters: EU Robotics Aims for the Marketplace

About Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly $98 billion (?80 billion) of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) ? in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.