One of the major long-term activities of euRobotics is to periodically produce a roadmap for European robotics. This was last done in 2014-2017 with the production of the Multi-Annual Roadmap (MAR) and the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA). More recently in 2020 euRobotics, through the Topic Groups, contributed to the robotics-specific parts of the AI, Data and Robotics Partnership Strategic Research Innovation and Deployment Agenda (SRIDA).
Much has changed since 2014 both in robotics and our co- technologies; the emergence of machine learning; the re-emergence of AI and its new focus on trustworthiness; the digital innovation hubs, a term first used in 2016 but now widely understood. Not to mention the impact of the pandemic on every aspect of work and life and the new understanding we have about resilience. Then there are the new Commission directions; missions, the green deal, the digital decade, the new Bauhaus… If our new robotics roadmap, and its strategic direction, are to align with current themes there is much to examine and absorb.
This new agenda and roadmap must step beyond explaining the advances in core technologies or how wonderful everything would be if we could deploy robotics in every sector. The technologies and systems we have created are already being used; on farms, in hospitals and in our infrastructure. We have moved from a technology focus to an application focus and so the new roadmap is built on use cases and challenges.
So how are we progressing towards our destination of a new roadmap that sets out the future of European robotics in 2030?
The answer is that we are making good progress, although there is still much work to be done. Topic Groups have been busy collecting their thoughts and ideas, developing use cases and challenges, examining the state of the art in each area. The TG Summit provided a wealth of material with a remarkable cohesion of vision between all the groups. The task is now to collate this extensive material to deliver the key thematic directions that cut across the sectors; to identify the major directions for technical advance; to understand the need for infrastructure, software, design tools, sensors, platforms and testing facilities etc. that will be our focus in the coming years. Alongside this we must consider how we sit within the global frame of robotics, to assess where European excellence lies. In this quest our academic colleagues have a major role to play. Their insight is essential in setting out the vision for 2030. We must also consider the impact robots, as socio-technical systems, will have on our society and economy. For these reasons there is a need to address legal, ethical and societal issues; issues about privacy, liability and trustworthiness, sometimes with our colleagues in AI but where this relates to physical presence the expertise of roboticists is needed.
So how will the roadmap look when it is produced? Now is the right time to examine not only the content and messages of the roadmap but also the way it is delivered. This requires a multi-layered approach. In the diagram , you can three layers used to present the roadmap in different ways and levels of detail to different stakeholders. The most abstract layer presents the highlights with high level overviews that are accessible to policy makers and end user industries and is planned to be a short pdf or printed document. The next level of detail takes different more sectorial and technical viewpoints directing the arrow of progression and examining the barriers and opportunities.
Finally, the roadmap should not be a static document that remains unchanged over a longer time, but rather needs to become a living work that can be built on and updated over its lifetime. We can use multi-media to express the roadmap and add to it over time. We can step into labs and businesses to seek their vision and to showcase success and new directions. There is much to be done and 2022 will see the first parts of this work come together. For euRobotics this will be the year of the new roadmap.