After leading deployment of industrial robotics, Europe now faces transformation based on automation and service robots
Evolving technology and applications offer great opportunities for EU growth and recovery, but require coordinated efforts on skills, value chains, funding and scaling start-ups.
First day of the conference
During the first day of the AI Watch science for policy conference, “What future for European robotics?”, the focus of exchanges was on the scientific evidence on the impact of robotics on employment, productivity and competitiveness.
Manuel Heitor, Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, delivered the opening remarks. Full Professor at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College of London, he underlined the science and technology role in creating new skilled jobs, which are essential to deliver a social Europe that leaves no one behind.
The first panel discussion focused on economics. José Manuel Mendonça, from INESC TEC and University of Porto, explained affordable solutions robotics already offers to increase productivity in hospitals, warehouses, agriculture, and mining. Dr Anna Salomons, from University of Utrecht, shared her research on the employment created and the new, more valued, job types that emerge as automation increase. From the MIT, Dr. Daron Acemoglu proposed a task-based approach to analyse how technological change influences the labour market and advocated for regulation to manage undesired social and economic impacts.
The keynote from Dr Bernd Lieper, President of euRobotics aisbl, opened the second panel of the day: Industry support to recovery. He noted the gap in the EU between development and deployment, and requested digital innovation hubs to further support SMEs to meet their key role taking up robotics.
Then a full panel explored insights from companies, start-ups, investors, and public policy regional experts. Helge Holm-Larsen, Managing Director at Syddansk Innovation, a pre-seed start-up incubator on high-tech business ideas with significant investments in the robotics space, offered best practices from their successful ecosystem based in Odense, Denmark. Daniel Dines explained the key moments that changed the course of UiPath, the start-up he co-founded and leads as CEO, specialised in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. They are determined to remove drudgery from everybody day jobs and give people time for, as President von der Leyen once said, what computers can't do: empathy and creativity.
Laszlo Hradszki, from Venture-capital firm Hiventures, offered VC investment figures in DeepTech (up by 218% between 2015 to 2019, from 7.3 billion to USD 15.9 billion) and in robotics (up by 860% between 2015 and 2019 from USD 160 million to 1.391 billion). He suggested focusing on the value chain to build a European success for Robotics and DeepTech, to export the European research and development capacity.
Zoltan Csefalvay, from Mathias Corvinus Collegium, offered a thorough analysis on the state of industrial on one side, and service and collaborative robots on the other. He distilled policy challenges in both areas including reshoring previously offshored processes, upscaling start-ups or better aligned regional policies. He highlighted a funding gap, we have as many start-ups as the US, but 10 times less funding. Scaling-up existing start-ups is the other big challenge.
Second day of the conference
On the second day of the conference, Thursday 28 January, the social impact of robotics is the main topic. Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, and Carme Torras, from Spanish Research Council are the keynote speakers. A broad range of experts will explore AI and ethical aspects of this technology, and the influence of robotics in children’s learning and development. Carme Artigas, Spanish Secretary of State for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence will draw the closing remarks of the day. Connect here to follow the proceedings live.
JRC publications on economics of robotics and industrial insights:
- The impact of industrial robots on the EU economy
- Do robots really destroy jobs?
- Not so disruptive yet
- Don't blame it on the machines: Robots and employment in Europe
- The labour market impact of robotisation
- Robotisation of the manufacturing industries in the EU: Convergence or divergence?
- Global race for robotisation – Looking at the entire robotisation chain: Where does Europe stand in the global robotisation race?
- Creativity – how to assess and foster this key skill for the 21st century