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How innovative robotics can solve pressing public sector issues

By acting as technologically demanding first buyers, public sector bodies can play a crucial role in robotic product development.

The ambitious EU-funded ECHORD++ project aims to push demand-driven technological innovation in Europe by encouraging public bodies to identify social and environmental issues where robotics might offer potential value. Robot manufacturers and research institutes will in turn be given the opportunity to apply for funding in order to develop novel solutions to these challenges. The ECHORD++ project, which will receive nearly EUR 20 million in EU funding, plans to launch what are known as pre-commercial procurement pilots (PCP Pilots) for two quite different robotic challenges. The first focuses on healthcare, while the second aims to improve the urban environment. These two challenges were selected out of a total of 32 submissions. Consultation days on these two topics have been scheduled, to provide further information on the challenges ahead and on the general framework of the PCP Pilots. The first consultation day on urban robotics was held in Barcelona on 20 November 2014 while the second, on the healthcare challenge, will be held in Munich on 3 December 2014. The call for tenders for both pilots will then open on 15 January 2015, enabling robotic manufacturers and research institutes to apply for funding. The healthcare challenge encourages the robotics industry to examine the potential of developing a robotised Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA). The CGA is a diagnostic instrument designed to collect data on the medical problems of elderly patients. This information is used to create an overall plan for treatment and follow-up. Currently, CGAs are performed by medical professionals involved in the care of elderly people. Using a robot to control and conduct these geriatric tests could reduce the amount of time that medical professionals have to spend on taking tests, and enable them to focus on delivering care. The second PCP Pilot aims to apply robotics to the inspection and clearance of urban sewer networks. Sewer inspections typically require people to work in risky and unhealthy conditions. Applying robotics to this process could not only make this work safer but also improve the precision and quality of sewer inspections. For example, robots may be able to determine the quantity of sediments in the sewer by detecting abnormal levels of water or obstructions in pipes. Both of these challenges require robotic products that are not yet available on the market. The idea behind these PCP Pilots is therefore to encourage robotic solutions that specifically address public sector needs. The ECHORD++ project, which is scheduled to run until 2018, also plans to establish three Robotics Innovation Facilities (RIFs). These are open labs that provide state-of-the-art robotic hardware and software as well as scientific and technical support. The Bristol RIF in the UK officially opened on 26 November 2014; the other two RIFs will be situated in Paris and Peccioli, Italy. Another goal of the project is to encourage knowledge transfers between scientific research, industry and users in robotics, and to stimulate greater cooperation. Encouraging greater cooperation between academia and industry will help to define the future direction of robotics research in Europe. For further information, please visit: ECHORD++



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