The European Robotics League (ERL) MK Smart City competition took place in Milton Keynes, UK, last month. Nine teams from the UK, Spain and Germany came together at the Centre: MK shopping complex in the centre of Milton Keynes to compete in five challlenges or ‘episodes’ to test the ability of the robots under their control to complete a series of everyday tasks. The event attracted substantial media interest, with several national and regional TV and radio crews visiting the competition arena to record the event and interview competitors and organisers, including euRobotics secretary-general Reinhard Lafrenz.

The MK Smart City Robotics Competition took place over four days from 18-21 September in a public setting in a square at the Centre: MK, a large shopping mall in the centre of Milton Keynes, a city of a quarter of million people which lies 80 km north west of London. Milton Keynes, or MK as it is known locally, is no stranger to robotics competitions. It hosted a similar Smart City event under the SciRoc project in 2019. MK residents are also fairly comfortable with robots, too, as they have become accustomed to the sight of Starship food delivery robots on MK streets. 

The competing teams tackled one or more of five ‘episodes’, completing everyday tasks that are routine for humans but complex for robots: Deliver coffee shop orders; Through the Door; Take the elevator; Shopping pick and pack, and Socially Acceptable Item Delivery. Some of these proved to be more challenging than others and not all teams tackled each one. However, there were some notable performances which impressed the judges, and these were reflected in the final results. 

Episode Winner 2nd 3rd 
Deliver coffee shop orders  LASR UC3M Swift 
Through the Door b-it-bots Homer Cranfield 
Take the elevator  LASR SC-IOT  
Shopping pick and pack  Cranfield Homer  
Socially Acceptable Item Delivery  b-it-bots Homer  
Best Newcomer  Swift   
Best overall team (Joint winners)  LASR/b-it-bots   
Valuable contribution  Cranfield   

Media interest came in a steady stream of TV and radio production crews on the first day, with interviewers, recordists and camera operators from UK regional broadcasters BBC Look East and ITV Anglia News and Heart Four Counties Radio, plus news agency the Press Association. The media highlight came on the final day, when a full crew from BBC’s primetime national news magazine The One Show came and spent several hours recording interviews and capturing the teams in action. The One Show attracts several million viewers, who were able to see a well-packaged, fast-moving feature about the event which was broadcast early on Friday evening, the following day.  

One of the impressive features of the overall event was the degree of organisation, collaboration and support within the project team led by Ian Pulford, Director of UK-based Smart City Consultancy Ltd. The event was supported by a range of public, academic and commercial partners including Milton Keynes Council, centre:mk, Ocado Technology, Cranfield University and Beckhoff among others.  

From an euRobotics perspective, the event provided valuable branding and name-awareness both for the European Robotics League and for the Association itself.  

The September edition of the newsletter gave a detailed description of the scenarios of each episode and the specific challenges that these created for the robots and therefore for the competing teams. Take me to the September article.