The euRobotics Vice Presidents (VP) Rainer Bischoff (for Industry) and Stefano Stramigioli (Research) give us an insight into their views on their role, activities and plans for euRobotics and on the challenges for European robotics in the coming years.
Q: In one sense, you have the same role for euRobotics – Vice President. But of course you each represent and lead a distinct part of our membership. Each in your own words, what are the most important aspects of your role, the points in common and the differences?
As VPs we both supervise the operations of the association, in close cooperation with the President, our colleagues from the Executive Team (ExT) and the Secretary General. We have been nominated by our industrial and academic colleagues from the Board of Directors, respectively, and approved by our membership for renewable three-year periods of service. Supporting the President in representing euRobotics at political levels and raising awareness for European robotics, e.g., at major conferences – usually at governmental forums –is another frequent task for both VPs.
Managing the association involves also setting strategy. In representing the industry members, I drive strategy with an industrial mind set and voice concerns and topics of interest for both smaller and larger industrial players along the value chain in robotics and automation, but increasingly also in AI.
Since the early days of EURON and EUROP, I have been focusing on promoting collaboration between research and industry, emphasising both the need for basic research and practical relevance, thereby bridging the gap to commercial exploitability. The European robotics roadmap is a reflection of these key aspects.
It was also important to create and further develop community events such as the European Robotics Forum, European Robotics Week, and the European Robotics League in collaboration between research and industry. It is important to say that all members of the ExT do an incredible job to serve our association to the benefit of our members. Weekly 90- minute phone conferences are just the tip of the iceberg of our voluntary efforts.
euRobotics is one association and the fact that there are two VPs, one for industry and one for research, is just to take care that all members of our community are properly represented. Rainer and I have had a pleasant cooperation for years and our backgrounds help us to understand each other best in order to serve our members. I am an academic, and as such I know pretty well what the needs and goals are for members having a research background. With this structure, Rainer and I can better synergise and try to create win-win paradigms for both research and industry when possible.
Q: With a focus on the immediate future, what plans do you have within euRobotics in the coming year to reflect, promote and serve the interests of euRobotics members in Industry and Research respectively?
With the phasing out of SPARC and the foundation of Adra as the new Public-Private Partnership with the European Commission, our association faces new challenges. We are no longer the main point of contact for the European Commission, which I see as a key advantage for the future of our association as this makes us rethink our role and the benefits we wish to bring to our members. Rather than writing reports for the Commission, we can use our capacity to improve our own assets and create new services in response to our members’ needs. In addition to improving our key assets ERF, ERW and ERL, we want to expand our scientific basis and strengthen our Topic Groups (and Stefano will speak more about this), organize bi-annual robotics competitions. Above all, we want to become the key source of information for robotics topics in the EU for all other associations and public-private partnerships which need robotics or which could become a robotics technology supplier. Strategic alliances will have to formed, serving both industrial and research needs. To have more capacity for these additional tasks there is a constant challenge to become more efficient and improve our outreach. With this new newsletter format and some changes in the office workflow, the first steps have been taken towards a more effective, efficient, transparent, and sustainable association.
During recent constructive discussions with some well-respected members of our research membership, it became clear that there is a great interest in having a better exposure of the high quality of European research. The potential creation of a journal and a European conference in robotics may be a good way to tackle this. In this respect, I want to try to help in any way possible to realise this wish, which I undersign myself. The Topic Groups (TGs) are another important channel – the recent TG summit underlines this and we hope to create an annual TG event. Beside this, I have decided to start a specific academic track at ERF because that could also help in giving an extra dimension for our research members in our yearly European flagship event.
Q: Looking further ahead, what makes you feel personally optimistic about the future for European robotics? Equally, what are the challenges that will need to be faced in order to reach that future?
The future of European robotics is bright! Europe is among the leaders in industrial robotics and professional service robotics. Europe has a large number of startups that have successfully developed in recent years. Europe has a globally unique innovation system, where both basic research and the transfer into innovative applications are supported. The challenge is to build an ecosystem that connects all players in the value chain, from research to technology suppliers, robot manufacturers, system integrators and end users. Our association is expected to play an even greater role in connecting the players in the future by facilitating the sharing of information among industry players and expanding the range of networking opportunities. Synergies can be leveraged across industries and technologies, and in particular by looking at the interplay of robotics, automation and AI holistically.
Robotics will build our future. We need to tackle a lot of fundamental problems, but robotics will become more and more one of the central technologies for our daily life. Furthermore, thanks to unprecedented computational performances, a lot of AI technologies are becoming realizable, and synergies with robotics will create unprecedented opportunities. I am therefore very optimistic, but at the same time, we have to be very careful to prevent such a beautiful technology from becoming the Pandora’s box that the internet has become with the great threat that social media misinformation has demonstrated. I would not like to feel like Prometheus having given fire to humanity to then be punished for the rest of time. With power comes great responsibility, and I think that euRobotics will have a great responsibility to understand and support and coordinate the deployment of the wonderful applications robotics has to offer.