OK with the second day, now let?s backtrack to day one.
RoboBusiness Europe 2013
Day One: Friday, April 11:
What made all that energized talk of money and investing from day two so engaging and amped up for everyone was the set-up from day one.
Thursday morning of day one, I ambled thorough the sliding glass doors of Magazzini del Cotone in Genoa for a date with thirty speakers from all over Europe (mostly from Italy), who were there to fill us in on the here-and-now and near-future of European robotics.
Ground zero for the coming big bang in European robotics was an escalator ride up to the second floor of RoboBusiness Europe. While riding up, the guy behind me announced that the French had just ponied up ?98M ($129M) into their robotics program.
Wow, another Eurozone government putting up more big money. What?s going on?
For more than a year, but most intently since January, we at Robotics Business Review have been covering and reporting on the non-trivial spending from the European Commission (EC) into robotics during its 7th Framework, which was over $700M, now joined by individual countries investing during the run up to Horizon 2020 (2014-2020), with its projected mega-budget of $1B-plus just for robotics.
So, the overall total for robotics, both from the EC and individual countries, was now nearly $1.5B.
That $1.5B is but part of the ?80B ($107B) that the EC is putting into high-tech innovation overall. No one, no organization and no country puts that kind of money into anything without some substantial guarantee that something really big is about to happen. It?s either a war, Airbus or nothing.
Our contention at Robotics Business Review is that this big thing is going to be nothing short of the big bang in robotics. I was headed up the escalator to ground zero and into the very first tremors of that coming explosion.
RoboBusiness Europe had invited me over to speak and to chair a few of the sessions, so coming to Genoa offered me a firsthand look-see at what was going on.
Prelude to the big bang
One floor up (what Americans call the second floor is a European’s first floor), was the RoboBusiness Europe expo area. There were no carnival-like, scene-stealing displays vying for attention, like robots lifting barbells or kegs of beer and no deafening din from massed crowds.
Rather, there were rows and rows of product and demo tables hosted by small companies, standing in front of which were the young Turks of robotics showing off their wares with eager confidence to small groups of equally eager conference attendees.
There was an intimacy to their interactions missing from the bigger shows. For sure there were plenty of people, but there was orderliness to it all that seemed inviting.
Thomas Maier from Bluetechnix Gmbh, Austria, was one, and also representative of the energy from all. Founded in 2004 by members of the robot soccer team from Vienna University of Technology, the company manufacturers 3D Time-of-Flight camera and sensor systems for robot obstacle detection, navigation, and pick & place applications.
?Yes, it is time,? he answered, when I asked if he felt something big was at hand for robotics. ?And sensor systems like ours,? he said, waving his hand back and forth in front of his camera, ?are the main reason why.?
Small companies like Maier?s now have billions of euros at their backs: the full force and effect of the European Union, all 27 countries and 500 million people.
Some developer in far-off Bulgaria, whose own country might not be able to support much investment in robotics, can now go direct to the EU and get funding. In short, the Nicola Tesla?s of the world can stay put in Romania or where ever else in the EU they hail from, and flourish.
To me, the expo was refreshingly intelligent: I got into close contact with the technology, the people who made it and its applications. I maxed out the experience.
Up again on the escalator to what I called the second floor, which my hosts insisted was the third, were the Levante & Ponente rooms (one large, spacious meeting hall that could be split into two; hence the two names). Another intimate and engaging experience awaited.
The Levante & Ponente rooms had wide, comfortable armchairs with long row tables ideal for notebooks, laptops, bottles of water, or whatever; it was civilized. Juice and espresso were available outside, and most of the attendees sauntered in with teeny plastic cups of espresso.
Action vs. roadmaps
I had the honor of opening the meeting and was given a half hour to speak but mercifully did only a twenty-minute routine. I explained that as an American I was a bit jealous that Europe was so well organized, financed and ready to get on with things. While we were still penning roadmaps, these people were on the road.
I joked that just to be fair we were giving them a handicap: a five-year lead on us. They politely chuckled, but knew that they had a huge advantage. It was almost palpable in the room. They were serious and intent, something I hadn?t encountered at similar meetings in the U.S.
Standing at the podium, I could see that RoboBusiness Europe was large enough yet small enough to pick up those kinds of vibes. Every seat in the room was filled, yet it thankfully wasn?t a monster auditorium. The interaction level was very convenient and comfortable.
A grad student from the University of Sussex (UK) said to me ?if you had any part in organizing RoboBusiness Europe then thank you for organizing such a needed event. Not only was it a wonderful experience for me personally but an attendee is offering significant funding opportunities for my University as a result of a simple discussion we had there.?
The Italian group Innovability had organized it, so I pointed out the folks he should thank; at the same time I was happy and pleased at his RoboBusiness experience and good fortune. It was just the sort of thing for which the planners had hoped would take place.
A day of thirty speakers in four sessions and Italian cuisine for networking over lunch
One-by-one thirty speakers would next march to the stage?some of the best technical and business minds in Europe?in four sessions that stretched until seven o?clock in the evening, with a networking lunch stuck mercifully in-between.
Each session was on topic and each speaker on point.
The session topics for Thursday were stellar:
- Session I: World Market Overview and Industry Driving Factors
- Session II: Challenges in Industrial Robotics: Problems, Approaches & Solutions
- Session III: Healthcare Robotics
- Session IV: Robotics for Emergency Response & Dangerous Environments
The spread of topics just in the morning heading into lunch is indicative of the entire day.
From robot work crews to factories of the future…
Ruediger Dillmann from Karlsruhe Insitute of Technology kicked things off with an overview of European cutting-edge robotics research; Arturo Baroncelli, vice president of the International Federation of Robotics and also a vp at Comau followed with an overview of the robotics industry of today and tomorrow; Massimo Mattucci, chairman of the European Factories of the Future Research Association offered the room a look-see at the factories of 2020; and Domenico Appendino, from the Italian Machine Tools, Robots and Automation Manufacturers? Association went deeper into the factories with specifics on processes and robot work flows.
…to surgery, home healthcare, rescue bots and dangerous places
The afternoon saw the Levante & Ponente rooms split into two. The Engelberger Award winner and Director of the famous Biorobotics Institute at Scuola Superiore Sant?Anna, Paolo Dario, led off the Healthcare session with a state-of-the-art look at healthcare robotics. He alone is worth the price of admission.
Dario was followed by another six speakers covering such diverse areas as clinical practice, robot-assisted surgery, rehab robotics, robotic prostheses and home healthcare. European rehabilitative robotics, prostheses and home healthcare robotics are hands-down the world?s best;however, they seem a bit late or weak with exoskeletons and surgical robotics, except for the ARAKNES surgical project that may soon rival the da Vinci system.
Emergency robotics was going on in the other half of the room with quality presentations on nuclear plants, earthquake damaged buildings, underwater robotics, and deep tunneling. The Europeans stack up well here, but the U.S. still has a decisive advantage.
The day ended with an army of attendees?hardly anyone left early?tired, hungry but well informed drifting down the escalators to the street below. Me, I was exhausted and staggered off to my hotel. Revived after a bottle of Peroni, I reviewed by notes from the day and saw that I had travelled deeply into Ground Zero.
And there was still another day on money matters and investments in robotics yet to follow!
Get ready for RoboBusiness Europe 2014
For me, the planners of RoboBusiness Europe hit all the high notes for my needs. The only thing they forgot to include was maybe a souvenir shop filled with key fobs and other memorabilia marking the event. Then we could have all scooped something up to smile about five years on after the robot revolution gets into full swing. ?I was there! We were there!? we could each snigger.
Never fear, there?s always RoboBusiness Europe 2014 to think about. By then the rubber will be just about meeting the road and Europe?s robot revolution will be ready to barrel away like a Ferrari Testarossa.
See Money Matters: RoboBusiness Europe 2013, Day Two: Friday, April 12