At various points in history, the centre of Europe has been claimed by Suchowola in Poland and Kremnické Bane, Slovakia. Communities in other countries have made their own claims for continental centrality. More recently, geographers have pinpointed a spot close to Lake Girija, Lithuania as the true midpoint. But during European Robotics Week, none of this matters, because the centre of Europe can be claimed – at least for a few days – by whoever holds the ERW Central Event. And so, for the robotics community this year, the centre of Europe was the Leibniz University Hannover in the northern German state of Lower Saxony. Read on to find out how it went in Hannover and for news of the Call to host next year’s Central Event. 

Following an opening event on a much more modest scale at the same location last year, this year’s Central Event filled four days with a variety of activities to attract everyone from school childen to Topic Group coordinators and members of the euRobotics Board of Directors (BoD). Working with a hard-working team of local organisers led by Jens Kotmaier, Tobias Ortmaier and Philipp Becker, with Ina May at the helm for the Roberta Challenge, the euRobotics Office team did their best to deliver a Central Event that offered variety and interest to the participants.   

Following a joint meeting of TG coordinators and BoD members at the Leibniz University’s out-of-town campus that was judged to be productive and a great success, the BoD took the opportunity to hold its scheduled monthly meeting in a face-to-face setting. Meanwhile, the Roberta Challenge took place at the main venue, the impressive, historic Lichthof atrium in the Welfenschloss, once the residence of the Hannoverian kings, now the eye-catching grand entrance to Hannover’s Leibniz University. The Roberta Challenge is an annual robot competition developed and organized by pupils from Hannover’s Roberta RegioZentrum. The competition is open for beginners starting from the 5th grade and their teachers and has its own category for girls. This year’s over-arching theme was sustainability, reflecting the United Nations sustainability goals. 

The Central Event opening ceremony began with words of welcome from the hosts Leibniz University Hannover’s Professor Holger Blume, Vice President Research and Transfer and from euRobotics’ President Dr. Bernd Liepert. 

 The ceremony’s keynote presentation was given by Michael Beetz, Professor for Computer Science at Bremen University’s Faculty for Mathematics & Informatics and head of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence (IAI).  His embracing theme – ‘Research, education, training and innovation in AI-powered and cognition-enabled robotics’ was, in his own words, “Everything I’ve ever wanted to talk about!” 

At this point the Central Event succeeded in bringing a flavour of the wider ERW activities around Europe by screening a series of short videos filmed on the eve of ERW 2023 by national coordinators from Hungary, Spain, Finland, Bosnia and Germany itself.  Attendees at the Hannover event then saw the Finnish coordinator Jyrki Latokarano switch from the screen to the stage as Jyrki stepped out from the audience to make a short presentation about a newly-published robotics text book written in Finnish and now available in English.  

A panel discussion followed, conducted in German and moderated by euRobotics secretary-general Reinhard Lafrenz. The panel line-up was: Dr. Alexander Georgiadis, Head of the Digitalization Division at the Lower Saxony Ministry for Economy, transport, construction and digitalization; Lara Trappmann, Student at the Schiller School in Hannover and a RoboCup world champion; Dr. Joachim Algermissen, head of the office of the leader of the Free Democrats  parliamentary group in the German Bundestag; Christine Buchholz-Straßer, head of  Business and Technology at the BBS Burgdorf vocational schools, and Dr. Tobias Ortmaier, Co-Founder of voraus robotik GmbH and a luminary of RoboticsCityHannover, who was also the keynote speaker at the 2022 Central Event. Five distinct voices, so clearly a five-star panel and ably led by Reinhard, this accomplished quintet then offered their own responses to the question: How do we imagine the Future of Work in a robotics and AI-enabled world? 

The last stage of the ceremony was given over to the presentation to winners of the Robotics Talents competition, run by the state of Lower Saxony, in which awards were made for two robotics-related PhD theses, a Masters dissertation and a school project.  

With the awards presented, the opening ceremony concluded with a series of thanks to everyone who played a part in making the event possible, followed by a very welcome spread of refreshments that encouraged attendees to linger in conversation for a further hour or two. Full details of the event programme, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and organisers, are given on the ERW 2023 Central Event site. 

ERW Central Event 2024: If you would like your institution and city to be in with a chance to become the next centre of Europe (!) find out what’s involved  by reading our newly-published Call to host ERW Central Event 2024.