European Robotics Platform – EUROP
Sectoral Report on
Working Group Members:
Nicola Tomatis, Bluebotics (CH)
Pierre Bureaux, K-Team (CH)
Hansruedi Fruh, Neuronics (CH)
Rodolphe Gelin and Raymond Fournier, CEA (FR)
Vincent Dupourqué, Joseph Lorang and Damien Salle, Robosoft (FR)
Olivier Merigeaux, Sinters (FR)
Albert Van Breemen and Bart Dirkx, Philips (NL)
Gian Paolo Sanguinetti, Ansaldo Ricerche (IT)
Clementina Pagano, Camera di Commercio di Genova (IT)
David Corsini, Telerobot (IT)
Curt Nyberg and Johann Zita, Electrolux (SE)
Juhani Lempiäinen, Deltatron (SF)
Patrick Finlay, Armstrong (UK)
John S Anderson, BAE Systems (UK)
Alan Rolfe, Oxford Technologies (UK)
Richard Greenhill, Shadow Robotics (UK)
Authors & Editors:
Rodolphe Gelin and Henrik Christensen
29 May 2005
Table of Contents
Table of Contents......................................................................................................................................... 2
Executive Summary..................................................................................................................................... 3
1. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................... 5
1.1 Scope of the Report .......................................................................................................................... 5
1.2 Context ............................................................................................................................................. 5
1.2.1 Professional service robots ...................................................................................................... 6
1.2.2 Domestic robots and robots for personal / private use............................................................. 6
1.2.3 Entertainment/Education Robots (Toys).................................................................................. 7
2. THE BACKGROUND: OVERVIEW OF THE MARKET........................................................ 8
3. EUROPE’S POSITIONING AND CHALLENGES.................................................................. 12
3.1 Europe’s Competitive Status in the World Market ............................................................................ 12
3.2 Guiding Vision & Objectives............................................................................................................. 12
3.2 Technological challenges................................................................................................................... 14
3.3 Non-Technological Challenges.......................................................................................................... 15
4. OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS ......................................................................................... 17
4.1 Opportunities ..................................................................................................................................... 17
4.2 Threats ............................................................................................................................................... 18
5. CONCLUSIONS........................................................................................................................... 20
Robotics is a technology at the cusp. Long accepted by industry to improve factory quality, performance
and efficiency, robotics has for at least three decades been a key technology in engineering industries
(automotive, electronics, etc.) for increasing industrial productivity and for competitive manufacturing.
After decades of hype and disappointment, robots are at last moving out of the shop-floor to find their way
in our homes and offices, hospitals, museums and other public spaces, in the form of self-navigating
vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, window washers, toys, surgical operators, etc.
These so called service robots start proliferating around. Indeed, according to a recent report from the
International Federation of Robotics (IFR), by end of the year 2003 some 21.000 service robots were used
in professional applications world wide in addition to more than 1.3 million service robots for personal
and private use with strong future forecasts (6.7 billion turnover expected from 2004 to 2007). Over the
last 5 years, there has been an exponential growth in service robotics for private use in homes. Since the
introduction of the autonomous vacuum cleaner by 2000 the market has grown to more than 600.000 units
shipped per year. The service market is at present experiencing an exponential growth with an increase of
more than 400% per year. Some 220 companies (about 70% of these are young start-ups) develop and
distribute service robots thus forming a new breed of innovative driven, high added value industry.
Service robots could soon perform much more challenging tasks than those in the above applications. In
the same way as mobile phones and laptops have changed our daily lives, robots are poised to become,
sooner or later, a part of everyday life, as our appliances, servants and assistants, as our helpers and elder-
care companions, assisting surgeons in medical operations, intervening in hazardous or life-critical
environments for search and rescue operations, and operating in field areas like forestry, agriculture,
cleaning, mining, freight transport, construction and demolition, etc. The robot systems of the next decade
will be human assistants, helping people do what they want to do in a natural and intuitive manner.
These perspectives offer significant business opportunities for European industry. This sectorial report
presents the shared views from a number of experts working in leading European industrial companies in
service robotic applications. The report proposes a long-term vision (10-25 years) towards novel robot
systems and their use in future service applications. The key objective of the report is to motivate the
strategic importance and the benefits for Europe to launch a European Technology Platform in Robotics
which will be including, among others, the major area of service robotics.
The European vision for future service robotics is that of robots empowering European citizens. The basis
of this empowerment is that robots work with people rather than away from people; and, that robots
interact with people and with each other and evolve, learn and adapt their behaviour to the requirements
of the task they are given and the environment they are in. Moreover, with the growing emergence of
ubiquitous computing and communication environments, robots will be able to call upon an unlimited
knowledge base and coordinate their activities with other devices and systems. Further, the growing
spread of ubiquitous computing will lead to robot technologies being embedded into ubiquitous ICT
networks to become the agents of physical action, resulting in the active home, office and public
environment. Robots as units capable of moving around, sensing, actuating, decision making and acting
will become part of these networks of artefacts, for delivering, individually or collectively as a group,
novel capabilities, applications and services.
These new robot technologies represent a hope for a most convenient world in Europe and world wide,
enabling greater social inclusion and helping meet the challenges of the EU’s greying population. Personal
assistant robots will enable a greater proportion of the population to live independently in their own homes
and require less hospital or care-home based support. However, these significant social benefits should not
overshadow the significant commercial opportunities for professional, personal and domestic robots.
These will be very large markets and a very large worldwide supply network will develop in the provision
of robotic products and support services, e.g. third party upgrades of software and / or hardware.
Related key technology challenges that need to be addressed in order to prepare a vibrant and very
competitive European industry in service robotic applications include:
• Robotic components: Design and development of marketable key robotic components (sensors,
actuators, flexible and dependable arms and efficient grasping mechanisms, locomotion systems) with
• Intelligent and cognitive robot systems operating in human environments and co-operating with
people through intuitive multimodal interfaces. The objective will be to drastically increase
intelligence and autonomy of robots through advanced cognition, control and action capabilities, for
achieving goals in everyday environments.
• System Engineering issues, including:
− Integrated modular systems (“plug & play” robotics): Advanced modular design, modelling and
development of new, dependable, robust and “plug-and-play” service robot systems.
− Network-centric robotic systems: Embedding into, co-ordination and interaction of robot systems
with smart IT infrastructure.
Europe has the necessary ingredients to meet successfully its ambitions in creating a world leading
European service robotics industry, by bringing together the main industrial and academic robotic players
around such a European initiative.
Europe has strong brand names in white goods and domestic services and many big companies are ready
to play a very active role in the future market of service robotics. More than 100 high tech SMEs have
been created in Europe the last 5 years, bringing many new innovative solutions in the service robotics
market. Europe has also several world leading academic teams in robotics research, with more than 200
universities and research institutes offering education and research in robotics, and thus creating an
unparalleled basis in qualification and knowledge.
SMEs and research labs have the capacity to develop the missing robotic technology and final users begin
to be convinced of the interest of robotics in everyday life. What is missing is organisation of cooperation
between the actors, investment to build the first products, standardisation to turn competition between
actors into general profit. When Japan or Korea decided to build a humanoid robot, they concentrated the
efforts of their research labs and companies towards this goal. Europe has to focus its development in a
same way on some well chosen specific objectives. This report proposes some concrete lines of action in
1.1 Scope of the Report
This report describes robotic systems and technologies for service applications. It is part of a series of
reports produced by the participants of EUROP, the initiative for setting-up a European Technology
Platform in Robotics.
The key objective of the report is to motivate the strategic importance and the benefits for Europe to
launch a European Technology Platform in Robotics which will be including, among other areas, also
those of service robotics.
The report proposes a vision for future European service robotic technologies that is centred on robots
empowering European citizens. The basis of this empowerment is that of robots that are embedded in
ubiquitous computing environments and that work closely with people, interact with people and with other
robots in a most natural and intuitive manner, assist people in carrying out their everyday tasks, and more
broadly, deliver to people, individually or collectively as a group, a host of novel capabilities, applications
After a comprehensive overview of the present world market status and its future prospects for
development, the report focuses on the key business drivers, obstacles to overcome and technology
challenges to address in order for the European industry in service robotics to become world leader in
The report is structured as follows:
− Section 1 briefly introduces service robotics in the context of their range of potential use in service
− Section 2 overviews the world market status today in service robotic applications.
− Section 3 focuses on the European perspectives of the service robotics industry. After a short
overview of Europe’s present competitive position in the world market, it provides a guiding vision
for the development of the European service robotics industry over the next 10-25 years. Both
technology and non technology key challenges are identified that need to be address in the coming
years in order to implement such vision.
− Section 4 identifies the main opportunities and threats that need to be considered in our way towards
world leadership in service markets.
− Finally, section 5, summarises the objectives and importance of a European initiative on service
robotics in order for Europe to become world leader in these huge future markets.
Since the middle of the 20th century, robotics has become a synonym for competitive production industry.
Car manufacturers and other large production industries have installed on a massive scale robotic
manipulators to address repetitive but delicate tasks or force requiring manipulations. Industrial robots are
today widely adopted by industrial branches and further productivity gains are expected through further
technology progress in manipulators and end-effectors and through a wider use of robots in the shop floor,
where they are expected to add performance and functionality in future machines and operations.
The next major challenge of robotics will be to make robots and people closely working together. In the
same way as mobile phones and laptops have changed our daily lives, robots are poised to become, sooner
or later, a part of everyday life, as our appliances, servants and assistants, as our helpers and elder-care
companions, assisting surgeons in medical operations, intervening in hazardous or life-critical
environments for search and rescue operations, and operating in field areas like forestry, agriculture,
cleaning, mining, freight transport, construction and demolition, etc. The robot systems of the next decade
will be human assistants, helping people do what they want to do in a natural and intuitive manner.
Moreover, with the growing emergence of ubiquitous computing and communication environments,
robots will be able to call upon an unlimited knowledge base and coordinate their activities with other
devices and systems. Further, the growing spread of ubiquitous computing will lead to robot technologies
being embedded into ubiquitous ICT networks to become our agents of physical action, enhancing and
extending our physical capabilities and our senses. Robots as units capable of moving around, sensing,
actuating, decision making and acting will become part of these networks of artefacts, for delivering,
individually or collectively as a group, novel capabilities, applications and services.
Service robots will thus be found in all domains of our future life. They represent not only a hope for a
most convenient world but also a massive new market for high technology industry. This new sector offers
significant business opportunities for European industry. The potential applications are so numerous that it
can be useful to classify them in three main areas: professional service robots, domestic/private robots and
entertainment/education robots (toys).
1.2.1 Professional service robots
The professional service robots are probably the first service robots that will be available on the market,
because they are the answer to specific needs and have clearly defined business cases that could be
achieved with a modest R&D effort. Such applications provide a basis to establish the business domain in
a wider sense. These robots will likely not be produced in huge quantities. SMEs can assume production
of such robots.
The potential applications include:
− Field and outdoor (agriculture, forestry, mining, etc.)
− Autonomous transport (floats of vehicles, driving assistance, mass ground transportation)
− Cleaning and inspection of floors, walls, sewers, tanks, tubes, pipes etc.
− Construction and demolition
− Logistics (hospital and office courier systems including mail / drug / meal delivery, factory
logistics) and museum guides
− Underwater (pipeline inspection, repair, deep sea exploration, etc.)
− Medical and rehabilitation robots, orthesis
− Exoskeletons for increasing human capabilities in factories or construction.
1.2.2 Domestic robots and robots for personal / private use
These robots are directed at everyday chores such as home vacuuming or floor cleaning and other ordinary
domestic tasks. In the future, leisure time will gradually become a still more valuable commodity and
consequently people will be willing to pay money to be relieved of such chores. These units will be large
scale production items that are aggressively priced, and they will require involvement of mass production
companies such as present white-good providers. Moreover, future personal and domestic robots can add
convenience, safety, assistance and care to our daily life at home. They can attract significant attention as
a valuable contribution for e-inclusion and independent living for elderly and disabled, thus allowing them
to be more autonomous in their daily lives.
Today’s and future applications include:
− vacuum, floor, window cleaners
− room tidiers
− lawn mowers, tennis ball collectors, pool cleaners, fallen leaves harvesters and crushers
− home security
− personal exercisers for training and rehabilitation (sports, fitness, massage);
− assistants to disabled and elderly person (wheelchair, manipulator, transfer machine, feeder,
mobility assistance, tele-medicine companion)
− servants and personal companions
1.2.3 Entertainment/Education Robots (Toys)
Entertainment has the advantage that the metric of fun/amusement is radically different from the other two
areas. In general people pay significant money to “have fun”. Cars are an excellent example of people
paying extra to have a stylish model or extra gadgets. Today robotic toys typically have a time of use that
is in the order of weeks. In the future, the introduction of adaptive behaviours and more advanced
customisation will result in increased use and corresponding increases in prices. The market is already
well established, but to 1-2 exceptions, there are at present no major providers of such technology in
Three kinds of toys can be seen:
− pet robots
− entertainment (mobile robots in entertainment parks, modular robotics)
Regarding professional service robots, domestic robots or toys, the common idea of developing service
robots is systems that operate symbiotically and in close co-operation with people to make them work in
the real world in cooperation with people.
2. THE BACKGROUND: OVERVIEW OF THE MARKET
We mentioned in the introduction the massive market represented by service robotics. A report of
International Federation of Robotics (IFR) indicates that by the end of the year 2003 some 21.000 service
robots were used in professional applications world wide in addition to more than 1,3 million service
robots for personal and private use (lawn mowers, autonomous vacuum cleaners, robot toys) with strong
future forecast: a turnover of 6,7 billion expected from 2004 to 2007. Over the last 5 years, there has been
an exponential growth in service robotics for private use in homes (domestic applications). Since the
introduction of the autonomous vacuum cleaner in year 2000, the market has grown to more than 600.000
units shipped per year. At the same time, the market has also seen other significant products, such as
autonomous lawn mowers. The market is at present experiencing an exponential growth with an increase
of more than 400% per year. Some 220 companies (about 70% of these are young start-ups) develop and
distribute service robots thus forming a new breed of innovation-driven high added-value industry.
Figure 1 indicates the status and the roadmap of service robotics. Humanoids are mentioned as a
technological challenge more than a real application.
Figure 1: Service Robotics – Status and Roadmap
From a quantitative point of view, figures 2 and 3 indicate the present size/value of the domestic and
professional robotics market and its prediction for the next 3 years (numbers from UN World Robotics
2003). The growth estimates indicate a clear potential for significant new industrial sectors.
Figure 2: Present value and prediction for the next 3 years for domestic service robotics
Figure 3: Present value and prediction for the next 3 years for professional service robotics
Other existing quantitative studies indicate a market on the verge of dramatic growth. Recent research by
the Japan Robotics Association (JRA), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and
the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) indicates that the nascent personal and service robotics
market will exhibit exceptional near term growth and will surpass the size of the much older industrial
robotic market at the end of 2005 (Figures 4-5). To derive data for the personal and service robotics
market, one often must extrapolate from existing studies. For example, from a recent study of the Japan
Robotics Association (JRA), data for the service and personal robotics market can be derived by
combining the public sector, medical, welfare and home markets. According to the JRA (Figure 4), the
service and personal robotics marketplaces together will equal the size of the industrial robotics market
(the combination of manufacturing and bio-industrial) by 2005, and will be twice the size of the industrial
robotics market by 2010, and almost 4x its size by 2025.
Figure 4: Worldwide Robotics Market Growth
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the International Federation of
Robotics (IFR) estimate that the personal and service robotics market will roughly double between 2002
and 2005, reaching $5.2B in 2005 (Figure 5). The number of personal and service robots sold is expected
to increase ten-fold between 2002 and 2005 according to the UNECE and IFR. Sales for domestic robots
(vacuum cleaning, lawn mowing, window cleaning and other types) is expected to reach over 800,000
units, while sales for toy and entertainment robots will exceed one million units. Startling projections of
drastic market growth based on scant research is nothing new to nascent technology markets. In fact it is
the rule rather than the exception. But some assurance as to the validity of estimates can be had if the
various studies are in basic agreement. For example, the Japan Robotics Association expects the personal
and service robotics market to grow from $600M in 2002 to $5.4B in 2005, and expand even more quickly
after that. These figures closely approximate those of the UNECE and IFR studies (Source: World
Robotics 2004 published by IFR/UNECE).
Figure 5: Personal and Service Robotics Market Growth
3. EUROPE’S POSITIONING AND CHALLENGES
3.1 Europe’s Competitive Status in the World Market
If we divide the service robotics in three market segments (professional applications, domestic use and
entertainment) we can describe very different market situations as far as Europe’s present competitive
position is concerned:
− In the professional market, the diffusion is gradually happening and Europe has a number of
dominant suppliers in this domain such as Hefter, Nilfisk and OCRobotics. As much as 60% of all
companies involved are from Europe. However, Korean companies such as LG and Samsung are
rapidly entering the market. Through setup of joint platform it might be possible for Europe to
maintain its leadership in a domain that is expected to have an economic value of at least 2B€
over the next 4 years.
− In the domestic sector, the market is going to expand very rapidly, as already being seen in USA
and Korea. Traditionally Europe has very strong brand names in high-end white goods and
domestic services through companies such as Dyson, Electrolux, Husqvarna, Kärcher, Miele,
Philips and Siemens, but at present the market leaders are American and Korean. Companies in
these countries have been faster to adapt their business models to be in line with the new market
dynamics (e.g., iRobot, Aquaproduct, LG, Samsung). It is here crucial for Europe to build
strategic alliances between the traditional companies and the technology providers to ensure a
− The entertainment sector has without doubt the most interesting market figures. That is probably
why Japanese industry was involved very soon in this domain. For example, Sony has managed to
sell so far more than 200.000 units of its world famous AIBO dog robot. Other major Japanese
companies, such as NEC and Sanyo, have developed a high quality offer in this domain. These
companies have dominated the mass-market segment and there is a rather limited history of a
robotics entertainment industry in Europe. Therefore, it will be too difficult and may be already
too late for Europe to enter into this market segment.
3.2 Guiding Vision & Objectives
In Europe, robotics is a very active research domain. Currently it is estimated that some 250 universities
and research institutes offer education and research in robotics. They create a wide basis in qualification
and knowledge. Robotic networks such as EURON (http://www.euron.org) and professional organisations
(EUnited Robotics, http://www.roboticsonline.com) significantly contribute to improve the coordination
of European research and innovation related activities. Based on this innovation and research strength and
considering the growing market of personal and entertainment robotics, European SMEs begin to invest in
the domain of service robotics.
Although service robots are very diverse in their appearance and functionality, some application drivers
may have a pioneering effect on their further evolution and overall commercial success. Out of the large
number of possible product concepts and ideas in specific service robot applications, the following
categories have been identified as being the most promising ones.
Supply chain for a European service robotics industry The majority of service robots for professional use
(cleaning machines, inspection, repair, defence, security, underwater etc.) are characterized by small to
medium series numbers that, due to a large variety of existing and anticipated designs, add up to large
numbers and big market volumes, as expressed in relevant statistics. Often, these service robots evolve
from existing product lines through adding automation functions and autonomy. Typically SMEs develop
and market such systems. They are thus largely depending on typical robotics component suppliers
(sensors, controls, user interfaces, transmissions). They buy such components and configure and integrate
them to systems. Therefore, by creating dependable support chains of service robot components enables
these companies to seize new product opportunities and market share.
Robot companions It is widely recognized that robots that combine assistance in every day’s tasks (such as
fetch-and-carry jobs, mobility aid, multi-media-support etc.) at acceptable cost and appealing appearance
represents a bright business case. The robot companion’s functionality depends on catching the intent of
untrained users, situation awareness in every day’s settings, mobility in home environments, identifying,
manipulating and grasping almost arbitrary objects. Application areas of robot companions could range
from a helper at family homes to executing tasks in offices, public environments and in services.
Furthermore, elderly and mobility-impaired persons could stay longer in their homes as a robot companion
could help achieve some independence from full time caring personnel. These market potentials have been
well outlined in the last years so that large research programs and R&D efforts of large corporations are
geared towards the development of convincing robot companion products.
Personal robot families Future consumer robot families will go beyond simple household robot designs
(i.e. robotics lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners) in that these will come in customisable product families
with scaled functionality. Very similar to other personal customisable product family such as mobile
phones, the Swatch wristwatch etc., these mobile robots will allow adding and customizing different
functional modules (multi-media interfaces, IT added value services, simple robot arms/grippers for
manipulation, expressive heads equipped with sensors, actors and voice, vacuuming aggregates etc.).
Typical operating environments are homes, offices and public spaces. The overall design has to follow a
fully modular approach to quickly adjust the designs to changing customer preferences, to account for
individualization and the development of rapidly succeeding product generations.
Ubiquitous robots and robotic networks “Instead of robots populating the environment, the environment
will evolve into robots” said Alex Zelinsky from Australian National University. This means that low-cost
mobile platforms, arms, sensors, actuators, man-machine interfaces will be embedded into networks which
will result in active home, public or office environments. This vision is an extension to the current concept
of ambient intelligence in the sense that the environment will be physically interacting with persons,
objects and ICT infrastructure. Mobile platforms (e.g. personal robot families) can offer ubiquitous access
to edutainment, IT services and tele-presence. Low-cost arms embedded into furniture could assist in
handling and cleaning operations. Low degree-of-freedom actuators could perform simple tasks such as
directing light (active lamp) or watering flowers.
Taking into consideration the above, a guiding vision for a technology platform like EUROP could be
formulated around the following short, medium and long-term objectives:
− a robot that moves around in office-like environments
− an efficient vacuum cleaner and floor cleaner
− an upper limb orthesis
− inter-operability / robotic modules to be coupled together
− a robot that moves around at home and can physically interact with the environment
− a robot that is the interface between people and domotic networks
− a lower limb orthesis
− a micro-robot for endoscopic surgery
− a reliable tele-presence system for maintenance and inspection
− a component supply market for robot systems
− a mechanical maid
− a general purpose assistive robot
− a generic robot “worker” for industrial use
3.2 Technological challenges
Robots have always depended on the availability of typical key-components such as actuators, sensors,
materials, human-computer-interfaces. Besides component functionality and performance data, aspects of
physical and logical integration within standard system architectures are of increasing importance. The
following RTD issues towards high performance robot components were identified:
Actuators Today electro-magnetic servo-drives are the governing actuator for robots. However with the
advent of service robots, micro-systems or robot networks, new actuation principles may come into play.
Alternatives have been suggested for use in robotics such as piezo-electric actuators (micro-robotics),
thermo-mechanical actuators, electro-rheological gels, micro-fluids, electro-hydraulic motors etc. The
RTD challenge lies into bringing these principles to the level of marketable robot actuators.
Robot gears are considered mature components with few open research questions. However they represent
a major bottleneck towards high precision, lightweight, silent and low-cost robot arms. Today, only two
major (Japanese) producers dominate both market and research activities in this field. Therefore research
should aim at alternative gear designs both for servo drives as well as for novel actuator principles to be
taken up by European manufacturers.
Robot Arms Today, the weight/payload ratio for robot manipulators is typically of the order 50 to 100.
Large masses result in a significant inertia, which makes it difficult to increase speed and at the same time
such systems are not well suited for operation in the presence of humans. Thus the need for new designs
of systems with a low weight/payload ratio (preferably in the order of 1) arises. This requires an entire
new approach to design, the use of new types of advanced materials, new actuators (e.g. direct drive) etc.
Optimised weight/payload ratio will generally be more efficient and in some cases the added mechanical
flexibility is desirable (e.g. to allow operation in cooperation with humans). Such mechanically flexible
robots can only have repeatability and performance similar to existing robots through use of sensory
feedback in combination with new methods for control.
Grasping Closely coupled to actuation systems and arms is the design of flexible grasping mechanisms.
Today end-effectors are typically task-specific and precision engineered mechanical systems that are a
good solution for large-scale automation, but for operation in everyday environments this is not a realistic
option. The level of integration needed in terms of mechanism, motor and electronics is at least an order of
magnitude beyond present technology. Yet the economic benefit would be very significant. Initial
prototypes exist in this area, but breakthroughs in software and control are still needed.
Locomotion It is obviously a major technical challenge at least when looking at domestic house service
robots. For industrial or office environments, wheels are probably the ideal locomotion system (factories
are often single floor and offices are usually equipped with elevators). In domestic houses with stairs,
steps, and other various obstacles, regular wheels are not good enough. Then there is a large array of
solutions between regular wheels and bipeds, as for instance, multi-wheeled robots such as Mars rovers
and multi-legged robots such as hexapods and quadrupeds. Bipeds are the high-end of evolution
concerning locomotion (and it took a couple of million years) and have significant power and stability
disadvantages. At least a solution with 4 legs (or more) solves the stability/equilibrium problem.
Sensors So far, current sensor systems have not displayed enough robustness at appropriate costs to be
widely utilized in both industrial and everyday environments. A major breakthrough towards flexibility
and robustness would emerge from the commercial availability of low-cost 3D sensors (at some 100 €).
Furthermore, embedding sensors in robot structures as tactile and non-tactile sensing (e.g. artificial skins)
will be necessary for robots in human space sharing environments. Sensing systems supporting
recognition of arbitrary objects with simple training techniques will be essential for domestic use.
Cognition For operations in poorly structured environment as found in many service robotics applications,
there is a need to endow the systems with higher cognitive functions that allow recognition of context,
reasoning about actions and higher degree of error diagnostics and failure recovery. Such flexibility can
only be achieved through use of more advanced techniques for artificial intelligence and cognitive
Computing and communication Breakthroughs in CPU power have been considered as the major
technology push in robotics. New research, especially in the in field of neuro-sciences (brain-like
computing, DNA computing etc.) will, in the long term, contribute to processing large amounts of sensor
data, and thus lead to a new quality of cognitive systems and artificial intelligence.
Intuitive multi-modal interfaces Intuitive human-robot interfaces should support an efficient transfer of
knowledge and skills between users and machines. While multi-modal interfaces will be very much driven
by the IT industries, typical interfaces for robot instruction will have to be developed such as robust
gesture recognition, haptic displays, or even systems for non-invasive brain access.
Modular designs Incrementally developing product lines or modular product families will depend on
modularisation. Thus key components both in hardware and software should rely on a (standard)
middleware for extension by evolving functional components or by added value components (e.g. IT-
functions). Modularisation requires standards/practices to achieve configuration and assemblies of
subsequent product lines.
Dependability is a concept which not only involves robot safety but also its operating robustness,
particularly the system’s availability, security, reliability, and maintainability in every day’s operating
scenarios. Design for dependability will be one of the most pronounced R&D challenges in service robot
systems which will affect any aspect of service robot R&D from architectures to key component
functionality and design. Closely linked to the establishment of dependable designs is the necessity of
defining indicators or benchmarks which both measure specific performance data, behaviours and a task
execution given relevant test scenarios.
3.3 Non-Technological Challenges
New business models One of the main obstacles to ensuring continued economic growth is the lack of
adequate business models for the changing economy. Technology is becoming more pervasive and is
entering into new domains. As technology enters into such new domains there is sometimes a clash of
culture and practises. As an example, recently there has been significant automation in white goods for
areas such as vacuum cleaning. Traditionally people buy vacuum cleaners to last for 6-10 years at a price
of 200€ or less. The new generation of autonomous vacuum cleaners has a technology life span that might
only last 1-3 years. An idea of fridges with built-in web browsers was also promoted for a time, but a
refrigerator has a life span of 10 years or more while a web browser might be outdated in 12 months, so
there is here an integration of technologies that have too different timescales to present a credible business
case. At the same time there are huge new business opportunities, as this is witnessed by the fact that
iRobot™ has sold more than 1 million vacuuming units over a period of 3 years. Such business cases can
only be generated through adoption of new business models.
Support infrastructure for service robots Traditionally robotics has been used in sectors where the skill
level of users is relatively high, or explicit training has been part of the acquisition of new systems. In
emerging application domains such an expectation might no longer be realistic. In addition, the need for
customer support might be radically different from those seen earlier. In case of trouble between man and
robot, a support infrastructure has to be available. This infrastructure should go from the hotline on phone
to the intervention of a specialized technician. Such technician could be highly qualified to fix any kind of
failure on such a complex system. Consequently the entire business process from conceptual design to
end-user application will have to be carefully re-evaluated.
Integration across traditional commercial barriers, as some of the new application domains are in areas
in which there is little interest in ownership of some of the core technologies. In this case, the domain
experts will want to be in charge of the systems integration. For such new application domains, the
domain experts might have the sales and support structures in place, but there is a need to acquire key
competencies from technology experts. Such marriages across technological and business areas have so
far been relatively rare; however entry into new markets might dictate such changes.
Need to develop robotic solutions in emerging market segments Robotics has so far primarily been
applied in high-tech, high volume markets, but the new and emerging areas might be in market segments
that traditionally have been dominated by use of technology with a limited complexity. In these new
markets it can be expected that there will be new roles for SMEs and for integration of a variety of
components, which potentially could generate an entirely new industrial sector, as for example seen in
Korea. As part of this, a key to acceptance and success is the simple relation that the cost of the product
must be less than its price that in turn must be less than its value to the customer, e.g. cost < price < value.
Without respect for this simple relation, new products and services will not be able to generate longer-
Acceptance of service robots in society For technologies such as robotics, there exist some technology
related ethical issues that must be considered. Science fiction writers and Hollywood films heavily bias
the public view of robotics. Unfortunately the view promoted is unrealistic and often destructive or
unethical. There is thus a significant need to communicate to the public the real value of robotics. At the
same time, there is a general view that “robotics is replacing the workforce to reduce cost”. Yet, in most
cases the labour cost issues is secondary or non-existing. As an example, in the car industry the main drive
behind introduction of robots has been harmonisation of quality. Robots enable production of cars with a
consistent quality, due to their superior mechanical accuracy. In addition robots take away dangerous and
dull jobs and thereby they save human lives or remove tasks that may cause sickness if performed by
humans. However in many cases this is not recognized and the press has in general a negative view of
automation. Only through a concerted effort can this general view by public be changed.
4. OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS
In the previous chapter, we described the parameters we can tune. The whole European robotics
community, from universities to big industries, can do their best to solve technological and non-
technological problems to access the vision we have. But our action will happen in a global context that
we have to deal with. This context is made of opportunities that will help us and threats that will make our
work more difficult.
Quality of life A factor that is strongly influencing Europe is quality of life. During the last century there
has been a steady economic growth in Europe, which has created significant wealth and also a strong
social system. At the same time, there has been a move towards political stability throughout Europe,
which has increased quality of life. Throughout Europe people have come to expect a high degree of
personal safety and of protection of personal values and way of life.
Greying population At the same time, all of Europe is experiencing a significant ageing that will result in
the next 15-20 years in more than 45% retired people and a longer life span. An ageing population will
challenge society in a number of ways in terms of our healthcare and pension systems. In addition, people
are gradually having more time for leisure that calls for new types of entertainment in particular for retired
people. People will necessarily want to be offered ways to spend their time doing quality activities.
Quality of life is here in many respects tied to a sense of autonomy. Citizens do not like that others dictate
their time and daily routines. There is thus a clear need for a new generation of aids for everyday activities
that will enable these people to remain autonomous for as long as possible while enjoying quality time
doing their favourite activities, whatever these may be.
Infrastructure Monitoring and Maintenance Europe has a large amount of infrastructure components of
high capital value (viaducts, power plants, motorways, railways, etc) which is ageing. It is unlikely that
this will be replaced any time soon, and so it requires a large amount of monitoring and maintenance.
Professional service robots offer significant advantages in this area.
Robotics is an attractive science and technology discipline An important aspect of robotics is that it is
“fun”. Today many countries are experiencing a decline in admission to engineering educations, due to a
lack of interest in purely technical educations. There is often an increased interest in topics such as design
and holistic topics such as product development. Here robotics can play a crucial role. By definition,
robotics must consider the full scope from basic mechanical design to control and intelligence so as to
provide an acceptable solution. The combination of systems engineering and “fun” can be utilized as a
catalyst to demonstrate how robotics is a confluence of many different disciplines. In education, it can be
used to generate interest and at the same time provide a basis for education of a new generation of
Concurrent development of new technologies Because robotics is a holistic topic, it aggregates results of
many technological developments. Other industries will perform developments that will be very useful for
robotics. As examples, we can mention energy and new materials. A number of other application domains
such as the car industry are investing heavily in the new energy technology. Many of the new application
systems will require some degree of mobility and there is here a need to use fuel-cell technology as part of
these systems. It is here crucial to have systems with a significant energy density and short recharge times
so as to minimize downtime. In the same way, currently novel materials that embed actuation and sensing
properties are under research (“adaptronics”). A significant potential lies in creating robot structures
which follow these new principles: To “grow” structures instead of removing material for manufacturing
robots, to embed microsystems (sensors, actuators, circuits) into materials and to create new light-weight,
low inertia materials for new robot arms. It is expected that these technologies can be more or less directly
applied in robotics as well. It will naturally be important to carefully monitor R&D efforts in related fields
to generate joint momentum and to avoid overlap in efforts.
Late introduction in markets that have already been monopolized by non-EU major players Japanese
industry has already massively invested in the market of toy robots. Except for already well-positioned
companies such as LEGO, it will be very difficult for European industry to get a significant part of this
market. American and Japanese industries have already a significant market offer in vacuum cleaners and
other domestic applications. European industry can still take a leadership thanks to its experience in white
products and the quality of its research but it has to perfectly coordinate its efforts to be competitive.
The risk of destroying the market with non-reliable or non-safe robotics Japanese customers enjoy new
technologies no matter if the high-tech gadget is complicated to use or not totally efficient. If it is new, it
will be adopted. European consumers are very demanding from innovative products. If a service robot is
not reliable and does not fulfil the service it is supposed to bring, not only this robot will be rejected but
robots in general. Safety will be another very important issue. In new robot applications, there is a need to
have the system operate side-by-side with the human users/operators. Consequently, there is a risk on
direct interaction with the human, which calls for a new degree of safety. The early introduction of non-
reliable or non-safe robotics could kill for a long time the market of service robots in Europe. This risk can
be minimised by the development of safety standards, by the production of safe components, and by
careful attention to the development of safety-oriented control software.
Venture capital and other support structures for start-up companies The set-up of new products and
industries also points to another challenge. Today there is limited support for start-up companies that want
to exploit new ideas and generate new products. Often there is a lack of venture capital for the early
phases of business development. In addition, there is a lack of adequate, reasonably priced, services for
handling practical matters such as IPRs, etc. To ensure significant economic growth, it is important to
provide the required infrastructure that promotes and assists start-ups as it is unlikely that the entire
economic growth is going to happen within the established industrial structures. In the USA, there is a
much stronger access to risk capitals and associated support sectors that drives forward new industries.
There is a need to generate similar structures in Europe. The support must cover the entire innovation
process for the initial idea, over prototype development to commercial exploitation. Too often the
innovation process is broken due to undue optimism and too much bureaucracy. Inventors have no or
limited patience for the set-up of production systems, and in most cases they have no interest in all the
required paperwork to enter a product into the market. There is here a clear need for assistance.
Lack of a components industry in Europe There is a European reliance on mechatronic components
fabricated elsewhere. Large scale manufacturing of mechanical and electronic systems is almost entirely
performed in Asia today. This implies that it is relatively difficult to influence the design of new
components and access to such components might happen relatively late in the R&D process. There is
here a need to build strategic alliances so as to ensure that there is early involvement and access to new
Lack of strategic positioning Today in Europe, a lot of service robotic initiatives are running. More than
200 laboratories and research centres are working in this field. Because service robotics is not a major
theme of national or European programs, the work is quite scattered and similar research works are
probably performed in parallel in different laboratories. For big industries trying to strategically position
themselves in service robotics, they have the feeling to be left out to take many risks alone. It is necessary
that Europe organises its positioning in the field of service robotics to concentrate efforts and efficiency of
all concerned partners.
Brain drain The economic growth in Europe has in many respects been due to superior education. The
level of education of the average citizen is high and the workforce is in general highly skilled. However,
the major creativity or rather the remuneration for creativity is often higher in particular in the US and
there has consequently been a steady brain drain from Europe to the US. The best brains will often, at a
young age, choose to go to top-league universities or to international companies in the USA. There is a
significant need to change the system so that Europe becomes the area of creativity. This change requires
to setup state of the art facilities for research and also associated systems for remuneration of good work.
Such a system can only be achieved through public-private partnerships in which strong research
environments are created and at the same time third tier programmes are established more widely to
ensure that the best ideas are actually picked up and commercialised.
Europe has great opportunities:
− Big companies are ready to play a role in the future market of service robotics
− SME’s and research labs are able to develop the missing technology
− End users begin to be convinced of the interest of robotics in everyday life
What is missing is
− organisation of cooperation between all the actors involved
− investment to build the first products
− standardisation to turn competition between actors into general profit
When Japan and Korea decided to build a humanoid robot, they concentrated the efforts of their research
labs and companies towards this goal.
In the coming years, Europe has to focus its developments in a same way on some well chosen specific
objectives as the ones proposed in this report.