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Conference report

A multidisciplinary approach to maximise benefits and address concerns

The What future for European robotics? conference report summarises the key messages shared by the participants in the conference, with the aim to provide a scientific, policy-oriented and EU-centred analysis of the state of play in this area.

Read the full report

Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said in the keynote speech:

We expect robots to help our societies in achieving successfully the digital and green transitions and they are expected to have a concrete and direct impact on the daily lives of all the citizens (…). We need evidence-based policy in this field to understand the impact of robot interventions on human behaviour. We need to advance in our understanding and knowhow on machine learning, artificial intelligence, computer science, computer vision, and complex robot control systems.

Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič, said in the keynote speech:

The European Union has long been a global leader in the research and development of robotics and AI. Robotics can make our industry more competitive and sustainable, while helping to solve major societal challenges (…). Making the most of new technologies, not least in the field of AI and robotics, is paramount if we are to overcome the challenges – and make the most of the opportunities – which stand before us.

Key take-away messages

The European Commission is coming forward with a broad portfolio of policy initiatives to set-up an adequate legal framework and ensure that no one is left behind. Robotics was placed among the main priorities in the review of the Coordinated Plan on Artificial Intelligence, while the horizontal regulation on Artificial Intelligence proposes conditions for the use of high-risk AI applications.

Additionally, the proposal for a Regulation on machinery products – a centrepiece legislation for safety of robots in the EU – enhances requirements for new emerging autonomous robots.

Robotics could also be key for the post-pandemic recovery in the EU, if we make sure to support regional innovation, start-ups and a stronger involvement in the public sector, as well as ensuring a competitive advantage.

The recommendations included in the report are the results of a three-day series of discussion among leaders in industry, academia and policy-making. Among them, the need for robot design and development to comply with human rights is mentioned, as well as to keep humans in command, and to foresee measures against any negative environmental impact.

The advice given to policy-makers is to ensure that ethical technology assessments are carried out before deploying AI/robotics technology, and to consider a regulatory framework to minimise risks for children during social child-robot interaction.

This is already reflected in other Commission’s initiatives like the revision of the Machinery Directive, focusing on various elements like robot safety, human-machine interaction and transparency, or the Product Liability Directive, in which rules for compensation to customers to who have been damaged by the use of AI and robots will be further clarified.