April 15, 2013      

Last month, Arnaud Montebourg, Minister for Industrial Renewal in France, announced the French Robot Initiative, a ?100 million ($129.6 million) plan, designed to make France a world-leading competitor in robotics by 2020. The European Commission forecasts that the global robotics industry will be worth ?100 billion ($129.6 billion) by that time. Montebourg cited the ?considerable gap? between France?s 35,000 deployed robots and Germany?s 150,000 robot installations as illustrating the need for such a financial injection. France also currently trails countries like Sweden, Denmark, the United States, Spain, and now Thailand in robot installations. The five sectors that will receive focus under the plan are transport and logistics, defense and security, environment, intelligent machines (household goods that will link up to the internet of things) and personal assistance robots. A total of ?2 million ($2.6 million) is earmarked for the automotive sector, which is expected to invest further private funds in robotics. The new funding will come from both public and private sources. The largest private partner is Robolution Capital, a venture-capital firm specializing in service robots, created by Bruno Bonnell, a former CEO of games company Atari. Groups will be able to apply for grants from Bonnell’s ?60 million ($78.4 million) fund, receiving between ?300,000 ($392,000) and ?3 million ($3.92 million) per group. Also part of the initiative is a stimulus program for SMEs called ?The Robot Start PME,? initiated by Symop, the French Association for Manufacturing Technologies, and supported by the national government with ?10 million ($13 million) from France?s ?Investment in the Future Program.? Robot Start will provide a total of ?33 million ($43 million) to enable 250-300 companies to integrate robots. It consists of three steps: a diagnosis and consulting phase; assistance consisting of 10% of the financing cost of the equipment; and an assessment in terms of gains in productivity, competitiveness and employment for firms. ?There are hundreds of thousands of jobs to be created, and I intend to create them in France,? said Montebourg at the launch of the initiative. He expects that over the course of a couple of years, 70,000 jobs will be created. Interestingly, according to a recent survey conducted by the European Commission, 74% percent of the French, four points higher than the European average, believe robots ?steal people?s work.? The other objective beyond financial aid and job creation is to unite the industry through enhanced industry cooperation and annual audits. The country has fostered a fertile research environment in recent years. Five of the top 15 ranked European research institutes, according to Cybermetrics Lab, are located in France. It is expected that if France further organizes and strengthens its research in the robotics sector it will be better positioned to win future subsidies from the European Union.