[Designing Effective Roadmaps for Robotics Innovation]

Robots AI Added on 21/12/2017

IROS 2017 conference centre

Automated factories, autonomous delivery drones, self-driving cars, and robots used for mapping and monitoring the environment: these and similar technologies will soon touch every aspect of our lives and of the society as a whole. As a researcher in this area, I am interested in how these technologies are regulated and innovated. An engaging discussion took place during a workshop titled "Best practices in designing effective roadmaps for robotics innovation" at the IROS 2017 conference.

State-of-the-art in different countries

The workshop started with presentations on the process of designing roadmaps for robotics research and development. Individual speakers discussed best practises and problems encountered in their respective countries:

Dr. Rainer Bischoff
(euRobotics, EU):

EU flagThe robotics research is in a very mature stage in the EU. A network of robotics researchers and companies closely cooperate on issues such as using robots in healthcare, logistics, as well as for maintenance and inspection of infrastructure. The EU government has been funding research under the Horizon 2020 programme that is a result of various more fragmented programmes that ran in the past. Despite of the common programme, the decisions about relevant research areas are made in a bottom-up fashion - researchers get to influence what is being funded. To make this possible, various topic groups have been established throughout the EU, that shape the work programme of the European Commission. Public outreach is also very important in the EU. Not only are all funding decisions openly available to the public, researchers are encouraged to perform outreach activities.

Dr. Dario Floreano
(NCCR Robotics and EPFL, Switzerland)

Switzerland flagThe funding in Switzerland currently comes from the NCCR scheme, which is a 12-year programme that started in 2010 and has four target areas: research, technology transfer (especially when it comes to creating start-up companies), education and outreach. A part of this programme is also structural change in the research institutions of Switzerland. Since 2010, new robotics centres have been created and many new professors have been appointed. Switzerland takes a very pro-active approach to applied research and technology transfer is as important for them as research itself. The most important areas of interest include wearable robots, mobile robots for search and rescue, human-robot interaction and teleoperation, as well as educational robots that can teach computational thinking.

Sue Keay
(Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, Australia)

Australia flagAustralia is currently behind the Western countries when it comes to automation. This is mostly because there is no overreaching body that could unify different research groups and provide substantial research funding. A plan towards creating a centralised institution to support research is currently being formed and efforts are underway to persuade the government about the importance of investing into robotics. To this end, the ICRA 2018 conference, which will take place in Brisbane, Australia, is an important event for the Australian robotics community. Among the focus areas for future research, mining, manufacturing, defence and healthcare have been identified as the most important.

South Korea flag

Dr. Kyung-Hoon Kim
(Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy, South Korea)

The government of South Korea has controlled the robotics research focus via the Intelligent Robots Development and Promotion Act since 2008. Every five years, the roadmap for research is re-visited by government experts and new funding areas are identified. The areas of interest include machine learning and big data analysis, human-robot collaboration, development of hardware parts and software platforms, as well as application of robotics in smart factories.

India flag

Dr. Raj Madhavan
(Humanitarian Robotics Technologies, USA and India)

Researchers in India currently do not get any support from the government when it comes to robotics research. Some work on a research roadmap for robotics started in early 2017. However, the lack of government support is not the only problem that India faces. There also seems to be a lack of interest and commitment from individual researchers to unite their efforts and collaborate on a national level.

Research roadmaps and funding

In a panel discussion that followed the presentations, the following stakeholders in research and innovation were identified:

  • Governments: Provide investment money and shape regulations
  • The academia: Provides the foresight into new technologies
  • The industry: Creates the need for research and applies it.

A crucial factor that influences the interest from the government and the industry was idenfied: The ability of researchers to provide estimates about the economic impact of their work. Especially in the EU, robotics started growing as a research field when the industry became more involved in funding and roadmap creation.

Secondly, it was mentioned that engaging the government and the public is also very important. Because of the ability of government regulations to stop technology from being developed and used, politicians should be engaged with new ideas and with how they will shape the society. On the other hand, end-users, i.e., the public, also need to understand the impact of new technology on their lives, both to encourage the use of new technology and to mitigate fears of its negative impacts. However, engaging all stakeholders and making research and development relevant to all of them is often very difficult because of differences in opinions and long-term goals.

Challenges for adoption of robotics technologies

The second panel discussion focused on challenges for adoption of robotic technologies. The panelists included (in the order as shown on the photo): Dr. Raja Chatila (IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence & Autonomous Systems), Alexander Shikany (Association for Advancing Automation, USA), AJung Moon (University of British Columbia, Canada) and Dr Sabine Hauert (University of Bristol, UK).

Public acceptance and uncertainty about the impact of technology on well-being of people and the society as a whole, as well as the fear of loosing control of autonomous systems, were identified as the most important topics to address. To mitigate these fears, it is useful to provide the public with statistics on how technology impacted jobs in the recent past, as well as to provide well-informed projections for the near future.

Public communication is a crucial for scientists to be trained in and to regularly apply, especially as the commentary on new technology often comes from the media, where non-experts (consciously or not) misinform the public about the impacts and capabilities of new technology.

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