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European Robotics League plus Smart Cities Robot Competitions

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SciRoc (European Robotics League plus Smart Cities Robot Competitions)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2019-02-01 al 2020-07-31

The SciRoc project continues to organise and run the events of the European Robotics Leagues (ERL), a series of challenges in which robots compete in different application domains.

• ERL Consumer Service Robots. Some robots might operate in your home, for example, answering the door or bringing you items from around your house.
• ERL Professional Service Robots. Some robots might operate in delivering professional services outside the home, for example, helping workers to assemble furniture, delivering food to your home, building electronics.
• ERL Emergency Service Robots. If disaster strikes, robots might be a vital part of our ability to respond. These robots could travel by land, sea or air, and might be required to share information and co-operate.

The ERL events are slightly different from many other competitions in that they are intended to function as benchmarking events. In benchmarking, we test the ability of the whole robot to perform a task, like answering the door to somebody and interacting with them, and also test the performance of subsystems on the robots, like the ability to recognise faces. Crucially, benchmarking involves the measurement of performance against predefined metrics and on well-specified tests, so that different robots’ performance can be compared.

Like many other robot competitions, the events in the ERL Challenges have tended to take place in specialist facilities or in robotics conferences, which reduces their value as a mechanism for public engagement. Therefore the SciRoc project introduces a fourth ERL Challenge, ERL Smart Cities. Smart Cities are municipal environments in which sensors and communications infrastructure make data available to improve the lives of the inhabitants, reduce environmental impact, and lower costs. In ERL Smart Cities we will present robots from the three challenges above, working on believable tasks in a relatable environment. We believe that robots and smart cities go together in a natural partnership that adds value to both.
The rulebooks for the ERL challenges were updated, and we changed the names of the challenges slightly to recognise the increasing convergence between ‘service’ and ‘industrial’ robots. Hitherto, industrial robots were typically arms with little ability to sense their environment or deal with changes, but new developments in the growing ‘Industry 4.0’ and, more widely, the possibility of adopting robots to commercial purposes outside factories, means that robots in commercial applications may need the same human-robot interaction capabilities and cognitive abilities as robots working in homes in e.g. assisted living applications. The new names of ERL Consumer (was ‘Service’) and ERL Professional (was ‘Industrial’) reflect this convergence, and the fact that robot forms and functionality used in one set of domains might be reused to great effect in the other.

In the process of updating the rulebooks, we have moved ever closer to a consistent bench marking and awards structure for the ERL. We have organised and supported a number of tournaments throughout Europe, in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK, including a well-publicised and high profile event at the flagship IROS conference (October 2018, Madrid). Full details can be found on the website www.robotics-league.eu

These ERL events have been supported by the development of further infrastructure to help gather benchmarking information about robots, to record robot performance and assist with the smooth running of events, and to visualise robot performance during competitions to assist public engagement and communications. In doing this we have drawn on current developments of the robotics community through the network of professionals we have established.
We have also developed our new challenge, ERL Smart Cities. The first ERL Smart City Event took place in Milton Keynes, UK at Centre:MK, one of Europe’s largest enclosed shopping centres in September 2019. We identified Middleton Hall, a large open space as the ideal site balancing safety, cost, and visibility, and worked from that basis to develop a series of contests we call ‘episodes’. An initial list of 12 episodes was offered to the robotics community, and the resulting expressions of interest enabled us to refine this to a list of five episodes demonstrating much, though not all, of the functionality offered in the three ERL Challenges.

The first SciRoc challenge was enormously successful both in terms of technical results (five new technical episodes were successfully tackled by a total of 10 teams, many of them participating in more than one episode), and in terms of outreach and visibility, due to the location of the event in the Milton Keynes shopping mall and to a suitable communication strategy which outlines how events are promoted and their results disseminated. We have seen an increased influence in social media as a result of this, and members of the consortium have presented results at numerous conferences in workshops, presentations and in print. Alongside this, we have developed and refined some public engagement activities which will be delivered alongside major SciRoc events. We have also developed further an international network of experts, advisors, and collaborators who add value to the project. Our sponsors all reported their satisfaction with the outcomes of the event, and in some cases their enthusiasm to support similar events in the future.

In order to support the work mentioned above, we developed a communications plan which outlines how events are promoted and their results disseminated. We have seen an increased influence in social media as a result of this, and members of the consortium have presented results at numerous conferences in workshops, presentations and in print. Alongside this, we have developed and refined some public engagement activities which will be delivered alongside major SciRoc events. We have also developed further an international network of experts, advisors, and collaborators who add value to the project.

Finally, we have started working towards the sustainable future of the ERL beyond the lifespan of the SciRoc project. Although we have been successful in raising many hundreds of thousands of Euros through the generous support of our sponsors, we cannot rely on this in the long term. Therefore, we will work towards identifying other income streams which will continue to support the ERL and its participating teams beyond 2022.

In summary, SciRoc has met its objectives, in full, during both Period One and Two, and we are well placed to deliver beyond our stated objectives in Period Three.
The majority of demonstrations of robotics have been secluded from the public, but the Smart City Events place robots centre stage in a context which will clearly show the state of the art in relatable and believable tasks. This will enable us to discuss the potential impacts of robotics on peoples’ lives. We believe that this is the world’s first public demonstration of robotics in the Smart City context, and we hope that the Smart City Event will help to frame discussion about the ways in which smart cities and robots can work together for mutual benefit; Smart City Episodes place robot behaviour in context, they require teams to consider how to integrate with the city infrastructure, and reveal use cases which may shape future Smart City development.