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Robotic support in urban environments

A robotics tournament helped showcase how robots can operate in smart cities to provide services to residents.

Digital Economy

Taking orders and delivering coffee? Coping with an emergency situation and fetching a first-aid kit for a customer? These are some of the tasks that robots have successfully performed at a shopping mall in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, as part of the EU-funded SciRoc project that recently held the European Robotics League (ERL) Smart Cities Robotics Challenge. At the tournament, 10 European teams competed against each other in 5 scenarios where robots assisted humans. They undertook various activities such as serving coffee orders, picking products in a grocery store and bringing medical aid. The robotics competition was structured through a series of episodes in which robotic systems were tested using specific functional benchmarks in an operational context. “This means that, during an episode, the tested functionality requires the integration with other system components, but limits the efforts for their development (using, for instance, off-the-shelf solutions),” as explained on the project website. “Although the goal is to target specifically one functionality (or exceptionally, two), an effort to integrate the main functionality and the other ones might be required in order to complete the episode.” The ERL’s benchmarking approach includes “two separate, but interconnected, types of benchmarks: Functionality Benchmarks (FBMs) and Task Benchmarks (TBMs),” as noted in a news item on the ‘Robohub’ platform. “A functionality benchmark evaluates a robot’s performance in specific functionalities, such as navigation, object perception, manipulation, etc. Whereas, a task benchmark assesses the performance of the robot system facing complex tasks that require using different functionalities.”

Episodes and tasks

Episodes were organised into three categories: human robot interaction and mobility, focusing on robots with verbal communication and navigational skills; manipulation, with robots achieving tasks like object manipulation; and emergency, where tasks are addressed autonomously by small aerial robots. The five episodes that were part of the ERL Smart Cities Robotics Challenge were: deliver coffee shop orders, take the elevator, shopping pick and pack, open the door, and fast delivery of emergency pills. Quoted in the same news item, Prof. Daniele Nardi from project partner Sapienza University of Rome says: “Robotics competitions in a smart city are projected into the future, since it is likely that smart cities will be among the first places populated by robots.” The ongoing SciRoc (European Robotics League plus Smart Cities Robot Competitions) project offers companies and researchers the opportunity to demonstrate their robotics systems and technology to a wide public audience in a realistic context. It continues running the events of the ERL, a series of challenges in which robots compete in different application domains. These include ERL Consumer Service Robots that could operate in users’ homes, ERL Professional Service Robots that could deliver professional services outside the home, and ERL Emergency Service Robots that could travel by land, sea or air. These applications are demonstrated in SciRoc’s fourth challenge, the ERL Smart Cities Robotics Challenge that focuses on showing how robots will integrate in the cities of the future as physical agents living in them. Launched in 2016, the ERL is a common framework for robotics competitions funded by the EU. Now run by SciRoc, it builds on the success of the RoCKIn, EURATHLON, EuRoC and RockEU2 projects. For more information, please see: SciRoc project website

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United Kingdom

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