August 19, 2016      

As the Netherlands exports its innovations to the world, particularly in agriculture, it is also becoming a robot testing ground. As interest and investment increases, the Netherlands can further establish itself as country as a robotics power.

For instance, in March, the Technical University of Delft announced that it would be testing WEpods, or self-driving buses, in two cities in the province of Gelderland. TU Delft is one partner, but the initial project was a collaboration between two French companies — Ligier (automotive) and Robosoft (robotics). In other words, France is testing self-driving ideas in the Netherlands.

In July, a self-driving bus from Mercedes-Benz made a “landmark journey” in the Netherlands. The bus, which uses a technology called CityPilot, travelled 20km (12.4 mi.) on Dutch territory, passing through tunnels and dealing with traffic lights and road intersections.

As practically the entire automobile industry develops self-driving cars, what’s the advantage going to the Netherlands?

If more automakers, such as BMW, Volkswagen, and Toyota, test their concepts in Dutch cities, they could push these cities to accelerate development of their “smart city” infrastructures.

Smart city infrastructures include smart traffic lights, networks to allow self-driving cars to communicate with one another, and advanced traffic controls. In addition to existing robotics talent and experience, this could help give the Netherlands a competitive edge.

Robot testing in schools

In addition to self-driving cars, the Netherlands is becoming a robotics testing ground for advances around education.

Last year, Italy, Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands agreed to develop a robot that can help children deal with Type 1 diabetes. This summer, the Netherlands became the first country to test Charlie. An estimated 40 students interacted with the robot, which can test blood sugar levels and carbohydrates in food and drinks.

Separately, an EU-funded project called “L2TOR” is focused on helping children improve their language skills. The Dutch cities of Tilburg and Utrech are hosting pilots, along with Bielefeld, Germany, and Istanbul.

Are Dutch schools setting their students up for success?

If more schools in the Netherlands roll out student collaboration with robots, these students will become accustomed to robots faster than students in other countries. This could provide another competitive edge, as Dutch students learn to use robots in the classroom and ultimately the workplace. Some students could also develop robotic systems faster.

Amsterdam's airport is a site of EU robot testing.

Spencer is helping passengers at Schiphol Airport.

Robot testing in European airports

In late 2015, the EU funded another educational project in the Netherlands. Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam became the testing site for Spencer, a robot was designed to help people find their way around.

The Netherlands is apparently a favorable location for trying out robotics. At the Geneva Airport, a robot named Leo is helping passengers check in. Is the Netherlands its next stop?

More on European Robot Testing and the Netherlands:

R&D funding could lead to wider Dutch dominance

As companies such as Chrysalix and Accenture invest hundreds of millions of dollars into robotics in the Netherlands, what exactly will come out of this research and development?

In addition to agriculture and self-driving cars, perhaps innovations will be in areas beyond the Netherlands’ traditional industries, like humanoid robots or military robotics.

Anything is possible. When it comes to Dutch robotics, the only obstacle stopping the country from venturing into certain robotics applications is no longer funding or talent. It is the Netherlands’ own priority of what is important and what is not.

Every robotics sector in the world is fair game, and Dutch robotics companies could help bring the next wave of disruption.