National coordinators and event organisers Zoom in on ERW 2020 and global challenges

In crisis comes opportunity, and euRobotics took advantage of current travel constraints by making its latest European Robotics Week (ERW) workshop freely available to network coordinators (NCs) and event organisers (EOs) wherever they were.

True, compromises had to be made on scope and format. This was, after all, a reduced scale event delivered via Zoom and not an all-day inter-active face-to-face workshop, although if pandemic restrictions have sufficiently lifted by the autumn a physical workshop may yet be possible in September. But the present constraint on travel became a positive advantage: many more people were able to participate in the online event than would normally be able to travel to a fixed location. And so 28 NCs and EOs representing 18 European countries joined euRobotics’ PR and Marketing Manager Lavinia Cinca and moderator Steve Doswell to exchange information, tips, ideas and experiences via a short series of presentations and discussion.

Lavinia opened with a brief reminder of the purpose of ERW, conceived by the European robotics community to bring robotics research and development closer to the public, and its progress, which has been remarkable. Since the first ERW in 2011, when 360 events were held across 19 countries, ERW had grown by 2019 to become the umbrella for 1,411 events across 41 countries, including some outside Europe. With this quadrupling of activity in just eight years, it’s fair to say that ERW has had a positively galvanising effect on the robotics sector. With ERW now completing a decade of existence, euRobotics will produce a 10th anniversary commemorative film.

Ana Maria Stancu, CEO of Bucharest Robots and euRobotics Board member, presented a case study on Tableta Educatională Românească, an initiative to tackle inequality of access to digital education in Romania. Fiorella Operto from Italy’s Scuola di Robotica outlined efforts to engage children in robotics, including the imaginative Pigiama Party Robotico for 11-13 year olds, and highlighted the Italian robotics community’s response to tackling the pandemic. Similarly, Spain’s NC, Ricardo Muñoz Cabello, presented examples of the Spanish robotics community’s own pivot towards the fight against Covid-19.

Maja Hadziselimovic, NC and euRobotics Board member, announced that this year’s ERW Central Event would take place in her country, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). In keeping with many other responses to current challenges, it would be delivered entirely digitally, meaning that a great many people both within BiH and beyond, including children, would be able to interact with ERW 2020’s online fair, workshops, webinars and lectures and competitions.

During the brief but wide-ranging discussion after the presentations, it was noted that the pandemic was leading to a positive shift in public perceptions of robots, because of the contributions robots can make to reduce human exposure to Coronavirus in several spheres of activity. Among various contributions, George Georgiou (NC Cyprus) said that robots needed to be cheaper, easier to program, manufacture, program and operate, and that it was time for robotics labs to become more accessible. Philippe Roussel (NC France) mentioned plans to relocate some production activity from China back to Europe and Andrei Dumitriu (Romania) spoke about an entrepreneurship focus for robotics students at Bucharest University. Tomo Sjekavica mentioned the Croatian Robotics Association’s online robotics competition, and Marianne Andersen mentioned ‘some cool events for girls aged 13-19 organised by High5Girls in Denmark. At the end, Sandra Meloni (Italy) captured the current reality when she spoke about the online robotics challenge for the planet and the environment.

These are uncertain times, yet there has rarely been a time when so many people have recognised the positive and constructive role that robotics can play in the human response to the pandemic and indeed to other global challenges. This was clearly reflected in an engaged and positively animated meeting.