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How can robots and humans work together?

Broad range of robot solutions at ERF 2024

by Marco van der Hoeven

Probably more than in other editions, the coexistence of robots and humans characterizes the solutions of the ERF, says Professor Lorenzo Marconi, chair of this unique event. Rocking Robots, official media partner for European Robotics Forum 2024, sat down with him to talk about ERF and trends in robotics

Professor Lorenzo Marconi will chair European Robotics Forum 2024 in Rimini. He is Full Professor at the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Information Engineering “Guglielmo Marconi” at the University of Bologna. For a long time, his main focus was on aerial vehicles, such as drones. Recently, he has been doing research into robotics in agriculture. With a spinoff from the University of Bologna, called Field Robotics, he develops autonomous, fully electric robots for various domains, particularly in agriculture. “The autonomous guidance techniques we developed for drones have been adapted for ground vehicles,” he explains. “These vehicles are now autonomously navigating in orchards and many other agricultural settings.”

Robots in agriculture will be one of the topics at ERF 2024 as well. Another important theme will be human-robot cooperation, and robotics in domains like manufacturing. There is also a lot of interest in robotics for sustainable solutions and green manufacturing. “Probably more than in other editions, the coexistence of robots and humans characterizes the solutions of the ERF,” Marconi says. “In the past, there was no fully integrated approach. The idea was to develop safe robotic solutions – safe meaning not dangerous for the human being working nearby.”

Integrated solutions

“Now that AI solutions are getting more embedded in robots, the idea is to look for integrated solutions. So, not only safe robots that allow the human being working nearby, but intelligent systems. This means having human beings fully integrated, implicitly integrated towards a common work, and sharing not only the same workspace but targeting the same work. This requires a lot of intelligence in the machines to adapt to changing scenarios and changing environments. But it also requires another attitude for human beings during the joint work.”

“This change in the human attitude is a very hot topic. The robots should be controlled and designed to be compliant, but the mindset of the human being should also be adapted and should change in order to have the same workspace as robots. This also means different skills. And this brings up the topic of learning and how the people sharing the same environment with robots should be trained to make this integration easier. Everything should be fully integrated, not just one piece of iron and one human sharing the same environment in a safe way: a fusion of the robot with a human being.”


Robots in Industry will be another topic this year. “The beauty of ERF is the strong synergy between academia and industry. This year, the presence of industry is fairly good, we pay a lot of attention to involve industry and having university researchers trying to answer questions posed by the industry stakeholders. So, for the first time at ERF, we offer an industrial scientific track, based on the answers of a poll asking industry about the challenges they had in mind for robotics in the near future.”

The industrial scientific track will run for three days. “We were extremely proud of it because it means that there was interest in it, and we will publish the proceedings. Actually, we have many industries participating as a sponsor. And at the conference site in Rimini we have an exhibition room of 2,000 square meters. I expect a lot of industrial participation in Rimini.”


And of course, there will be attention for the way robots can help with sustainability. “For instance in making the workplace a better place for human beings. This is sustainability not in terms of less emission, but quality of work. This is important because if workers are happy and proud of the work they accomplish, there are many benefits in terms of improvement of society at large.”

“The second aspect is optimization. If you have robotic solutions that are optimized with AI, everything is more sustainable, everything is less redundant. You can save energy, space, and make our settings much more efficient. Another aspect is, again, agriculture. If we can bring robotics and full electric solutions into the field, everything could be much more sustainable in terms of green solutions. I am excited about this, because intelligence could really change the attitude of the farmer and how the resources are used.”


Concluding, he says: “ERF is a unique event. We really look forward to having many participants. I consider it a success if we have many people attending, networking, meeting each other, exchanging ideas. If we have many participants, hopefully more than 1,000, it probably means that they were attracted by a nice program, which means we did a good job. The measure of the success of the event is the engagement of the region. If we can engage local industries around hot topics like robotics, I consider that as a considerable success. And, of course, Rimini is a wonderful city in terms of monuments and quality of life. I would really like all the participants to feel the niceness of the city.”

See also

European Robotics Forum 2024

Videoreport: ERF 2023

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