May 06, 2016      

The Horizon 2020 juggernaut keeps rolling across Europe — and several innovative pan-continental robotics projects have recently received support under the €80 billion program.

Earlier this spring, such projects included the Smart Assembly Robot with Advanced Functionalities or SARAFun, which aims to reduce the complexity of assembly automation.

Horizon 2020 also supported the €5.5 million ($6.3 million) Collaborative Aerial Robotic Workers (AeroWorks) initiative, which plans to develop a “novel aerial robotic team that possesses the capability to autonomously conduct infrastructure inspection and maintenance tasks.”

In addition, the €4 million ($4.5 million) Widely Scalable Mobile Underwater Sonar Technology (WiMUST) project is working on “expanding and improving the functionalities of current cooperative marine robotic systems.”

In the Socializing Sensorimotor Contingencies (socSMCs) project, universities in Germany, Sweden, and the U.K. will study human-machine interactions. The researchers will also use Barcelona-based PAL Robotics SL’s REEM-C humanoid robot (see photo above) to better understand how people with autism can work with others.

Horizon 2020’s next call for European robotics projects

Following the success of these and other projects, organizations across Europe are now gearing up for the 2016 call under the Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies — Information and Communication Technologies (LEIT-ICT) work program.

The 2016-2017 program forms the core part of Horizon 2020 Robotics and Autonomous Systems’ (RAS) activities and topics.

Some RAS-related activities can be found beyond LEIT-ICT. For example, projects to develop robotics for precision farming and border-control systems fall under the “societal challenges” pillar and corresponding work programs.

Although the work program for the 2016-2017 phase of Horizon 2020 LEIT-ICT was published in October last year, the parts relating to 2017 have so far only been provided “on an indicative basis” — with the final version expected in autumn 2016.

Under the auspices of euRobotics, the European robotics community is also currently working on the roadmap for 2018 through 2020. The plan will eventually be submitted to the European Commission as the basis for the work program and funding schemes.

The deadline for the most recently opened LEIT-ICT call was April 12, and another request for proposals is scheduled to open on May 10, with a deadline of Nov. 8.

According to Reinhard Lafrenz, the new secretary general of euRobotics, the commission expects to put out another call on Dec. 8, with the deadline for submitting applications likely to be April 25, 2017.

SPARC is a European network of public-private partnerships.

SPARC is encouraging European robotics partnerships. Click here to enlarge.

Bright SPARC

All of the RAS ICT topics for the 2016 to 2017 have been developed in collaboration with SPARC — a public-private partnership (PPP) between the EC and the European robotics community, represented by euRobotics AISBL — through its strategic research agenda and multi-annual roadmap.

“SPARC aims to facilitate the building and empowerment of a European industry and a supply chain that is capable of capturing over 42 percent of the world market in robotics by 2020,” said Lafrenz.

“Many SMEs [small and midsize enterprises] would not able to start and develop ‘risky’ projects without European funding, so a lot of innovation is initiated by the EC,” he said. “The cooperation across Europe also supports the creation of a robotics ecosystem where end users have access to the products and expertise available.”

“Since robotics is a rapidly advancing technology, it diffuses like a prairie fire into applications that range from manufacturing to the health sector, from agriculture to mining, from maintenance of industrial plants to construction of buildings, from rescue to transport and logistics,” Lafrenz said.

Changing European robotics perceptions

He also revealed that euRobotics is focusing on improving the general public’s awareness of robotics. Not only will the organization do this through the mass media, but it will also address schools “by means of robotics classes, robot competitions, or innovation camps,” he said.

According to recent studies, many Europeans feel that robotics can benefit society, but that number is declining. One-third of U.K. citizens polled fear artificial intelligence, and by comparison, many Americans expect automation to take jobs — just not their own.

Similarly, the RoCKIn challenge is working to increase public awareness of robotics applications, encourage innovation, and help European businesses be competitive.

It plans to do this through November challenges around domestic service robots and industrial robots. Can European organizations move past research and public relations events and into a more proactive business stance?

“Networking is key to euRobotics,” Lafrenz said. “The annual European Robotics Forum, organized by euRobotics, is the most influential meeting of the European robotics community.”

“Over 700 researchers, engineers, managers, and a growing number of entrepreneurs and business people from all over Europe come together to discuss topics that have an immediate impact on the roadmapping process for robotics in Europe,” he explained.