Home Bots & Brains Preview: ‘ERF is bridging the gap between communities’

Preview: ‘ERF is bridging the gap between communities’

by Marco van der Hoeven

Next month the 2023 edition of the European Robotics Forum will be hosted in the ‘Robot Capital of the World’, Odense in Denmark. Rocking Robots talked to the chairman of this major robotics event, Christian Schlette of the University of Southern Denmark. ‘Robotics has become a major factor in engineering, where so many different technologies and methods come together.’

This year is the first time the European Robotics Forum is coming back to a location where it was once before: Odense in Denmark. Christian Schlette, host of the European Robotics Forum 2023, is a professor of robotics at the Odense based University of Southern Denmark (SDU). He is working on the topic of large structural production. He explains: “This means that we bring robots and digital technologies to the sectors construction, maritime, and energy.” SDU is in the middle of the Odense robotics community, which in effect is by now a national community consisting of 150 entities.

In the ten years that have elapsed since ERF was first hosted in Odense a lot has happened. The community itself has developed from being an initiative around a couple of companies, to a established national cluster. “When we look at the developments in robotics, during my professional life in robotics it has become more mature. When I started in the 1990’s in Dortmund in Germany at the Institute for Robotics Research this was the only German education institute that had robotics in its name.”

Artificial Intelligence

He continues: “This has changed. I think there’s not a single university by now, in Germany and in Europe in general, that does not have a technology faculty with robotics. Robotics has become a major factor in engineering, where so many different technologies and methods come together. If you want to go into automation of production, you need to have some basic knowledge of robotics. If you want to go into agriculture, it’s about robots. If you go into drones it is robotics at its core. So you just do not get around robotics, and artificial intelligence as the second big aspect about it. You have the robot as hardware, and then AI to feed into this hardware to do something meaningful.”

As for the event, the European Robotics Forum has ‘forum’ in its name because it’s not just a conference or another trade fair. “As European roboticists know who have attended this forum now for several years, it’s more like a family reunion, where we come together to meet. It is really doing good for us as a community, spanning across academia and industry. Part of the attendees come from academia, but there’s also part coming from industry. And that is not just people in the robotics industry, but also industries who are interested in what robotics and digitalization can actually bring to them, the end users. So we want to bridge this gap between these communities.”


Some major challenges will be discussed at the European Robotics Forum, focusing on how robotics is reacting to the current questions of our time. One of them, obviously, is sustainability. “We have to address this, because there’s often high hopes about robotics supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But we have to be very specific and concrete on how this actually supposed to happen. Robotics is not a magic silver bullet, and neither is AI. So we need to explain what we actually can achieve.”

He gives an example about how robotics can help drive sustainability. “At the SDU center for Large Structure Production (LSP) we work together with the local companies that are located in an industrial environment at a former shipyard area. They are all involved in manufacturing for offshore wind turbines, and are all heavily dependent on manual labor. Their order books are full because everyone wants green energy.”


“As they do not have enough hands to fulfill those orders we need to look into robotics to support them. Examples like these show how robots and robotic systems, but also bringing more software to existing robots, can help them to be less dependent on manual labor and actually get more performance and more efficiency out of what they do with the same amount of people, at the same time upskilling their staff.”

Another trend is the interaction between AI and robotics. “If you unpack an industrial robot, it’s just a device. It needs input. And this input needs to be clever and smart, to the degree that you also want to achieve clever and smart solutions with it. And part of it comes from sensor data -we do this for many years now. Part of it comes from digital data that is available about what we want to achieve, particularly digital data describing the products.”

Neural networks

“And now part of it comes also from having interpretation of the sensor data and digital data. Here AI has a role to provide this intelligence. We have to be careful though, to distinguish between AI as a field and neural networks as a solution. In our community, for years now, everything was about neural networks, and everyone was jumping on that. This was almost synonymous with AI. But AI is way more than that.”

This is similar to the development of digital twins. “It’s a term that is used a lot, but if you ask ten people about it you get twelve different opinions. I think of digital twins as a technology to have a virtual replica of a physical system. It is an interface technology: you have hardware, and you have a digital twin as an interface to connect different methods of planning and AI to specific hardware. This is how we work with AI right now, to get actionable commands to run robots, to break down huge amounts of data into something that gives meaning and can control a robot.”


Going back to the European Robotics Forum, attendees visiting this event will find a very open community, offering the best example of what Europe can be doing across going across different interests, areas or regions. Schlette concludes: “Visit ERF if you want to learn about robotics, if you want to get an overview of what is going on, in both academia and industry. And of course if you want to make new friends in this great community.”

Zie ook

Bernd Liepert, euRobotics: ‘Bring people and robots closer together’

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