This month three members of the euRobotics Executive Team discuss their role, what they each bring to it, their personal highlights as ExT members and their view of the future.
Q. In your own words, how would you describe your role as a member of the euRobotics Executive team?
David: Serving on ExT puts you at the centre of what euRobotics does day to day. It’s a close group of people who want the best for euRobotics and it is a team with an incredible wealth of experience, not only of robotics, but of all the different types of organisations we represent. It’s a chance for each of us to put something back into the community.
Jon: I think it is important to bring diversity in the decision-making process, so I try to convey the specificities of robotics’ broad and diverse communities. I think that together we are stronger so, even if we do not always manage it completely, we try to make sure everyone is able to carry on their interests with the support of the whole community.
Juha: I feel in ExT we are equal. Sure, we have specific roles like president, VPs, SG, and treasurer, but when we handle the meeting items everyone’s opinion is important. Every one of us has an opportunity to bring our own expertise to the discussion. The decision is made together.
Q. In your opinion, in what ways do you bring your personal experience and background (or even national characteristics!) to your role?
Jon: I work in Tecnalia, a RTO* aiming to bring knowledge to the market. This position leads me always to have in mind the needs of industry or to foster entrepreneurship in robotics. We need to help European industry to develop in order to maintain the European social wellbeing. But from the other side, an RTO is also trying to feed these processes with basic knowledge from academia. So, we also have understood the need to invest in basic research to maintain that flow.
*Research and technology organisation
Juha: Since I have my roots in the academic side it is natural for me to speak from a research point of view. However, from my research unit we have nurtured more than 10 spin-off companies so I also touch on entrepreneurship. On the governmental side, I have collaborated with several ministries – the latest is with our (Finnish) parliament’s Committee for the Future. Surely, I can bring some national flavour from the Arctic Circle but I do not think this is the most important thing. I think my strong point is to be able to a long, historical view and to understand where we are at this stage.
David: I’m not sure what the British national character brings to euRobotics, or even that I am typically British, my sense of being a European clearly fails to resonate with many people in the UK. But one obvious value is being a native English speaker…
Above all I bring my personal and technical experience to ExT. I’ve been an academic and worked for large companies and SMEs, launched spin-outs and advise policy makers both in the UK and Europe. So I’ve seen every angle of robotics from teaching to strategy, from robot hardware development to technology transfer. So I guess I bring breadth of experience and an understanding of how these different stakeholders should fit together.
Q. What do you most enjoy about your ExT role? Please mention a personal highlight.
Jon: I most enjoy the personal relationships that we have built during the last years. I think this is the key for having a strong community. I also feel very happy to have helped to push in that direction when I organised the first EURON-EUROP Joint Annual Meeting in my city Donostia-San Sebastian in the Basque Country more than ten years ago. This was the germ of today’s ERF. We were unaware at that time but the success of that event was important for getting the support from the EC during the latest Research Framework Programmes.
Juha: To get things done! Sometimes it takes much longer than I (we) think but still we are progressing. Pushing the robotics frontier forward is the most rewarding thing for me. Doing this with experts which I highly respect is rewarding. Perhaps one important thing personally was to tutor mining as one of our Topic Groups.
David: I most enjoy that fact that the discussions in ExT are always friendly, always fair, always listening. Everyone has a deep desire to make euRobotics a success. We all want to make sure we’ve thought about all the aspects and found the best solution even if that makes for a long discussion.
My highlight has to be the work we did to shape the AI, Data and Robotics partnership with the Commission so that robotics had a real voice within it. This was a complex journey with many steps and some “bumps” in the road, but as a result, with our Directors making up a third of Adra’s board, euRobotics can continue to uniquely represent the interests of the European robotics community while working in parallel with the Commission.
Q. Finally, how do you see the future unfolding for euRobotics and/or the European robotics sector?
David: Robotics is reaching a critical point in its uptake. We are no longer limited by the technology in finding applications that have valuable economic impact. This change can already be felt within euRobotics and the wider community in the greater focus on end users and on deployment. In the year ahead we have much to do, there is the new Roadmap to produce and new relationships to form with a broader range of partners. The Digital Innovation Hub networks, that were funded at the end of Horizon 2020, are looking at how they can become self-sustaining and euRobotics may have a role in that. The closer links with the AI communities in Europe, that we have gained through working on Adra, will yield new types of connectivity for euRobotics and we can use our new position to make our voice stronger. We have much to do and I am looking forward to an interesting year ahead advancing euRobotics!
Jon: Robotics requires to put together many advanced technologies from different scientific and technological areas. We have to be smart in finding new ways to incorporate them into our developments, and to develop new applications, in order to answer the needs of industry and society. Today, with the new Horizon Europe Framework Programme and the collaboration with the Artificial Intelligence and Data communities we have an important challenge to bring more autonomy to our robots. Working together could be a key breakthrough, we should take advantage of that opportunity.
Juha: We on the frontier of the next big step. Harnessing data and AI in a proper way to realize [even more potential] in robotics is an immerse opportunity.
NOTE: ExT member Geoff Pegman, Treasurer of euRobotics was away on holiday at the time of this interview. We will feature Geoff in the newsletter early in the New Year.