Uniting top European skills in robotics
Launched in 2022 as part of Horizon Europe (the EU framework programme for research and innovation) and endowed with a 4-year budget of €12.5 million, the European project euROBIN brings together experts in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to work collaboratively on these technologies within an idea-sharing network, via the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics - DLR (the German aeronautics and space research centre).
Serena Ivaldi, a researcher in robotics with Larsen, a joint Inria/Loria project team, steers the ‘Personal Robots’ challenge and represents the Institute within an extended consortium of some 31 partners from 14 countries (see insert). She sums up euROBIN as ‘a network project aimed at boosting scientific and technical cooperation between academic and industrial players around a strategic technology for the European Union.’
Accelerating the roll-out of innovative technologies
Stakeholders’ objectives are clearly defined: to offer and assess emerging robotic technologies, in particular AI-based, and accelerate the transfer of these innovations to Europe’s industrial sector. ‘With this type of project, the emphasis is on collaboration rather than competition between teams’, says Serena Ivaldi. ‘We work in an open context of sharing, where each partner brings their specific expertise and know-how to the table. By pooling the very best means and tools academic or industrial research has to offer, our goal is to overcome together the technical barriers preventing the industrial roll-out of certain robotic technologies.’
The field of robotics is constantly advancing and robots capable of increasingly impressive tasks, such as the manipulation of objects, are emerging in the industrial sector. These robots are of considerable interest to the production and distribution sectors because they can already be entrusted with certain tedious or dangerous tasks to assist or even replace humans, such as carrying heavy loads in a factory, identifying risks in a workshop, or finding lost items in a warehouse.
Designing robots with new abilities
Numerous businesses and research centres, including Inria, are also working on new robotics applications, including personal robots to carry out daily chores, such as receiving a parcel, stocking a refrigerator, emptying a dishwasher, etc.
Designing robots capable of accomplishing these feats raises numerous technical challenges, however! Serena Ivaldi gives us an example: ‘Imagine entrusting a robot with the reception of a parcel at your home. The robot has to open the door, interact with a human and perhaps open the parcel or place it on a table. It thus needs to be equipped with various functions and algorithms for voice recognition and object manipulation, all without dropping the parcel or breaking other objects in your living room! This form of multi-tasking remains a major scientific barrier.’
Teaching robots to handle soft objects
Various solutions do exist but at diverse levels of maturity and often lacking inter-compatibility. euROBIN should help to overcome these limits as the project’s partners will work to define development standards ensuring the certification of these technologies in a step towards their wider use.
Another challenge consists in the handling of soft objects to be found everywhere in our daily lives. ‘We’ve all asked for help at some time with folding linen,’ Serena Ivaldi explains. ‘Robots are a long way from matching our children, who learn these simple movements by imitating us. We must develop a collaborative framework to make it possible to accomplish these tasks with a robot, and to equip the latter with algorithms so it can adapt to the material being manipulated without damaging it, for example.’
Collaboration in an innovative framework
How can we solve these issues? euROBIN offers an innovative form of collaboration with the research teams involved in the project addressing these challenges via cooperative competitions. ‘There will be regular hackathons: the next one is in Seville in May 2023 and I will organise another one during the IEEE Humanoids 2024 world conference, in Nancy in November 2024’, Serena Ivaldi adds. ‘Others will follow. The European Robotic Forum (the next one is in Rimini, Italy, in March 2024) will be the high point of these hackathons, during which the consortium partners will demonstrate the latest performances of their robotic systems.’
The highly-strategic euROBIN project has been designed to enable Europe to maintain its key role in addressing those major challenges and in the emergence of a mass market for AI-based robotics. Its goal is to implement outstanding research abilities, including a technology and expertise platform at the service of companies.
New uses for industrial robots
PAL Robotics, a partner of euROBIN, is a Spanish firm which develops humanoid robots designed to assist individuals. CEO Francesco Ferro explains the benefits of this project for his company.
- Why did PAL Robotics decide to partner euROBIN?
euROBIN is a European network bringing together excellence centres and supporting the robotics research community, with highly ambitious scientific and technical goals. We joined because we believe that major innovations in robotics cannot be achieved by a single company alone. Collaboration is crucial in this field, and we must work together to maintain our competitive edge on an international level. The idea is to develop robotics that meet society’s needs better and to address the challenges we face in the context of this roll-out. We adhere to euROBIN’s vision, which is to build a European eco-system and an idea-sharing network in this field.
- How will you contribute to the project?
PAL Robotics provided case studies on the theme ‘personal robots to enhance life quality and well-being’. Our TIAGo robot will be used for everyday tasks such as loading a dishwasher or putting clothes on hangers.
- What does your collaboration with Inria bring you?
Inria’s teams have great expertise and vast experience in the development of robot autonomy. We have been working with numerous researchers from the Institute, including Serena Ivaldi, for a long time. With euROBIN, we hope to develop new abilities for TIAGo, making our robot increasingly useful in various settings, such as the home or retail outlets. Inria researchers will thus study various scenarios for the robot’s use, and, we hope, overcome the issues linked to new environments which limit its roll-out at present.
Calling on Inria teams
Exciting tasks await researchers: ‘We’re going to develop open-source tools to foster collaboration and code re-use. We’ll be working on generic and transferable algorithms, to be used by as many robots as possible, which is a highly-stimulating scientific challenge’, enthuses Serena Ivaldi. The Institute will be actively involved in this adventure. ‘Inria will be well-represented in this project, as numerous teams, such as Acentauri (Sophia-Antipolis), Defrost (Lille), Chroma (Lyon), Robotlearn (Grenoble), Willow (Paris) or Rainbow (Rennes), will join Larsen.’
Find out more
- Serena Ivaldi: a life in science fiction, Inria, 23/4/2020
31 partners and 14 European countries represented in euROBIN
- Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt, Germany ;
- Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Germany ;
- Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (Inria), France;
- Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA), France;
- Teknologisk Institut, Denmark;
- Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics, Czech Technical University in Prague, Czech Republic;
- C.R.E.A.T.E. (Consorzio di Ricerca per l'Energia, l'Automazione e le Tecnologie dell'Elettromagnetismo), Italy;
- Interuniversitair Micro-Electronica Centrum, Belgium;
- Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, Sweden;
- Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et Robotiques (ISIR) Sorbonne University, France;
- Örebro University, Sweden ;
- Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), France;
- Associação do Instituto Superior Técnico para a Investigação e Desenvolvimento, Portugal;
- Universita di Pisa, Italy;
- École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland;
- Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Switzerland;
- Universidad de Sevilla, Spain;
- Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Italy;
- Technische Universität München, Germany;
- Fundación Tecnalia Research and Innovation, Spain;
- Universiteit Twente, The Netherlands ;
- Jozef Stefan Institute, Slovenia;
- ASTI Mobile Robotics, Spain;
- DHL Express Spain, Spain;
- PAL Robotics, Spain;
- Volkswagen AG, Germany;
- Universität Bremen, Germany;
- Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung, Germany;
- FundingBox Accelerator, Poland;
- Siemens AG, Germany;
- Matador Industries, Slovakia.