In hindsight, I regret not blogging more about robots I’ve discovered on my travels and in working situations. This is where my joy and enthusiasm about the robots really gets fuelled, when I interact with them spontaneously. Recently with friends at our favourite Asian restaurant (Mchi in Ijburg – FYI the food was great and each plate left empty!), we encountered some Bellabots working as assistants to the restaurant staff. I was with my buddy Vikram Radhakrishnan, who is also crazy about robots and my partner Renze de Vries, who has made quite a few robots himself – check out his Youtube channel here). We worked on the Anki Vector project together back in 2019 – time flies when you’re in lockdown. Imagine our excitement to find these amazing robots serving dinner to patrons as if it was the most natural thing in the world! That really made our day!
These robots are also super cute – they have cat ears and when the service screen is not displayed, it shows a cat face. We’re all crazy about cats so our minds were completely blown by these robots.
These robots have collision avoidance, they were able to avoid the waiting staff, and they are programmed with table numbers and the dishwasher location for example. One also played happy birthday in Dutch for one of the tables as you can see but not hear properly in the video below:
Well, you know, by now I’m really excited to know more about the technology and company behind these robots so here goes:
ERF2019 took place at the Marriott hotel in Bucharest. As usual, the event was divided into workshops and an exhibition area with different robot-related organisations represented, including European organisations, robot and parts manufacturers, technology hubs, universities and governmental institutions. Check out my post on ERF2017 here.
The main topics for this year included:
Robotics and AI
Robotics in industry, logistics and transport
Ethics, liability, safety, standardization
Marine, aerial, space, wearable robotics
Robotics and AI
ERF2019 and ERF2017 were miles apart in terms of the awareness of AI. The EU has identified AI as a key area to remain competitive with the US and China, and have allocated a large amount of funding to AI. Lighthouse domains for investment include agrifood, inspection and maintenance and healthcare.
They seek to build partnerships across Europe, identify the key players and increase synergies between member states. They have setup a collaboration with the Big Data Value Association to create a strategy which will make AI development for robotics thrive.
AI has been identified as a way to get robots out of the cage and interacting directly with people. They need to be easier to configure, learn, program, use. It should not take weeks of training to introduce robots into health facilities, for instance. Robotics is AI embodied and brings its own challenges like application of learning and algorithms in real life chaotic and unpredictable environments. What are the value exchange points between AI and robotics? Can robots create a feedback loop to help tune AI algorithms? We need data to take the tech forward – and we need to be able to apply data and learnings across domains and applications. We also need to ensure that users and companies understand what their data is being used for and are comfortable with the contribution they are making.
AI4EU is a Horizon 2020 project which will create a platform to encourage AI sharing, gather resources, algorithms, datasets and AI knowledge in the EU. There are 3 open calls for startups, SME’s and AI talent, plus a technology transfer program. It will be the focal point in Europe for all AI resources. There will also be a search engine with a knowledge graph optimised to help search for ai-specific resources.
The platform will be as useful as we, the contributors make it. Especially in robotics we need to actively contribute and drive the content, because there is such a long way to go to independent robots. Submissions must be of high quality – safe, effective, rated by the user community, and fully specified. This could also result in financial remuneration for contributors. It will have two sandbox environments to make it easier to develop AI. A methodology will be provided to design AI components respecting EU values – inclusive and gender neutral.
The project started on 1 January 2019, and will deliver version 0 at the end of June 2019, V1 January 2020, V2 January 2021 and V3 December 2021. Industry will be represented by companies such as SAP and Siemens.
I noticed that there were few startups represented at the ERF. There is a startup competition, but I haven’t heard startups represented in the workshops where we share ideas. My guess is that it’s too expensive for startups to attend without providing immediate commercial value. But I also wonder if it’s because the pace of contribution of the EU projects is too slow for startups – all the projects take years to months and the outcomes are usually on too high a level to be used immediately. I think the EU can only harness the power of innovation in AI and Robotics by including the risk taking startup innovation layer and making it easier for us to understand and consume the vast amounts of research done. Then we need to be able to give feedback and improve the entire cycle together. As a startup, projects like this should be helping us to accelerate our development. But on the other hand we should be getting involved and demanding representation so that our needs can be addressed.