Robotics and artificial intelligence: Every autumn during the European Robot Week (ERW), robotics and artificial intelligence are the focus of public attention in all their facets. Numerous companies, institutes and organisations are also taking part in the eighth ERW, around 1,000 events are planned throughout Europe. And for the first time, the heart of ERW, the central opening event, is beating in Augsburg. We talked to euRobotics President Dr. Bernd Liepert about the expectations of ERW and what Romans and robotics have in common.
Dr Liepert, how would you explain to a layman what ERW is?
The popular opinion on robotics often comprises four points: Robots weld cars together, there are vacuum cleaner robots, Japan is the leader in humanoid robots and robots take away jobs from us. ERW should contribute to a more differentiated opinion. The aim of the week is to bring the topic of robotics closer to the general public and to take away fears. A total of 80,000 visitors are expected at over 1,000 events throughout Europe. At lectures, workshops, hackathons, training courses, guided tours and much more, participants can get their own picture of future topics.
And what tasks does euRobotics perform?
euRobotics is a Brussels-based non-profit association for all interest groups in European robotics. The association stimulates the exchange between representatives from research and industry and maintains close contact with all other interest groups, especially politics and the media. The European Robotics Forum (ERF), the second major annual euRobotics event alongside ERW, also serves this purpose.
Which programme item are you most looking forward to and what do you expect from this year’s ERW?
I’m really looking forward to the opening event in Augsburg when high-ranking politicians show their interest in robotics in general and in ERW in particular and come by. This will increase public awareness of these issues even more, and of course I expect that more people will come into contact with robotics and gain a positive image: Robotics and artificial intelligence enable a higher level of quality of life for each individual and for the community.
You have just mentioned the opening event. What prompted euRobotics to award the opening event of ERW 2018 to Augsburg?
Each year, the association selects a different European city as the venue for the central opening event. Both the location of the city and its importance in the European robotics community are important for the selection. Augsburg was chosen because the Fuggerstadt, embedded in the Bavarian economic area, combines tradition and innovation and is home to numerous technology companies.
Which aspects of ERW are valuable both for the city of Augsburg and for the robotics scene?
The motto of the ERW kick-off event “Robotics for you” is reflected in the exhibition “From the Romans to Robotics” in the Zeughaus, which links the history of Augsburg with modernity. With the Romans, the Fuggers and Welsern in the Middle Ages and the textile industry, the city has a high degree of popularity, economy and industry have shaped the city since time immemorial. The whole of Europe will be looking to Augsburg this week. It would be great if Augsburg could be motivated by the event to invest even more in robotics and thus become a “Robot Valley” in which numerous technology companies from automation and digitization would settle, closely linked to strong research. The motto of the ERW kick-off event “Robotics for you” is reflected in an exhibition in the Zeughaus, which connects the history of Augsburg with modernity. With the Romans, the Fuggers and Welsern in the Middle Ages and the textile industry, the city has a high degree of popularity, economy and industry have shaped the city since time immemorial. The whole of Europe will be looking to Augsburg this week. It would be great if Augsburg could be motivated by the event to invest even more in robotics and thus become a “Robot Valley” in which numerous technology companies from automation and digitization would settle, closely linked to strong research.
What points will shape the future of robotics in Germany and Europe?
Europe stands for diversity – this is no different in robotics. Europe is strong in many technology fields that are important for robotics, especially mechatronics and artificial intelligence. In the field of robotics, Europe is also strong in turning ideas into products and cooperating along the entire value chain, from research to technology suppliers and robot manufacturers to end users. Nowhere else in the world are there so many strong start-ups.
In order to make the best possible use of limited resources, the euRobotics Association has defined four fields of application as the cornerstones of European robotics:
- Agile Production,
- Agri-food and Inspection and
Why exactly these subject areas?
We have selected these fields of application because they are highly relevant to society and because a financial and thematic focus can be expected to have a major positive impact on our society.
All four fields have in common that they require solutions for the global megatrends of our time:
- demographic change,
- environmental protection and sustainability, as well as
- the need for more individuality.
An aging population, for example, expects high-quality medical care that is tailored to the individual and at the same time cost-effective for a long self-determined life. Flexible production should become increasingly cost-effective and compensate for the shortage of skilled workers. This applies to all products, including food. The environment is to be protected by avoiding waste and recycling, energy-efficient production and the targeted use of fertilisers optimised down to the individual plant. Last but not least, robot-based automation will help to ensure that critical infrastructures such as bridges, buildings, power lines and sewers are monitored and maintained more closely.