European Robotics Challenges. EuRoC

The European manufacturing industry needs competitive solutions to keep global leadership in products and services. Exploiting synergies across application experts, technology suppliers, system integrators and service providers will speed up the process of bringing innovative technologies from research labs to industrial end-users. As an enabler in this context, the EuRoC initiative proposes to launch three industry-relevant challenges:

  • Reconfigurable Interactive Manufacturing Cell (RIMC),
  • Shop Floor Logistics and Manipulation (SFLM),
  • Plant Servicing and Inspection (PSI).

It aims at sharpening the focus of European manufacturing through a number of application experiments, while adopting an innovative approach which ensures comparative performance evaluation. Each challenge is launched via an open call and is structured in 3 stages.

45 Contestants are selected using a challenge in a simulation environment: the low barrier of entry allows new players to compete with established robotics teams. Matching up the best Contestants with industrial end users, 15 Challenger teams are admitted to the second stage, where the typical team is formed by research experts, technology suppliers, system integrators, plus end users.

Teams are required to benchmark use cases on standard robotic platforms empowered by this consortium. After a mid-term evaluation with public competition, the teams advance to showcasing the use case in a realistic environment. After an open judging process, 6 Challenge Finalists are admitted to run pilot experiments in a real environment at end-user sites to determine the final EuRoC Winner.

A number of challenge advisors and independent experts decide about access to the subsequent stages. A challenge-based approach with multiple stages of increasing complexity and financial support for competing teams will level the playing field for new contestants, attract new developers and new end users toward customisable robot applications, and provide sustainable solutions to carry out future challenges.

Motivation

The European robotics industry needs competitive solutions to attain and keep global leadership in robotics products and services. The European society will greatly benefit from this leadership position by making use of these robotics products and services that are aiming at improving their quality of life and work conditions. The adoption of robotics technology will help European manufacturing enterprises, in particular SMEs, to adapt to global competitive pressures. ICT suppliers such as robot manufacturers, system integrators and technology solution providers are important facilitators to improve the efficiency, adaptability and sustainability of manufacturing systems as well as their better integration within business processes in an increasingly globalised industrial context.

To boost robotics and manufacturing in Europe there is a need for a European perspective on the topics that need to be researched and developed. Both the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) for robotics in Europe, published in July 2009 under the auspice of the European Technology Platform (EUROP), and the Factory of the Future multi-annual roadmap deliver this European perspective and are at the same time perfect examples of a successful collaboration among all the actors of the value chain in manufacturing and servicing, i.e. end users (SMEs/industry), system integrators (SMEs/industry), technology suppliers (industry/SMEs) and research experts (academia). During the development of the strategic research agendas of robotics and manufacturing, fertilisation across these groups led to a technology roadmap targeting at realising new product visions and applications scenarios by 2020. However, the implementation of these strategic research agendas and the realisation of the application scenarios and associated product visions require an awareness of the core RTD issues to be solved and a joint effort of academia and industry, including SMEs.

We strongly believe that the definition of competitions and making them visible as “Grand Challenges” will create the required awareness in the community at large. Furthermore, we know from past experience that competitive solutions are in the longer term created only in close collaboration of industry and academia. Resorting to experimentation on shared research infrastructures, while referring to jointly developed benchmarks, will boost the development of new solutions.

Objectives

Objective #1: Launch and run three industrially-relevant challenges

As a key factor for driving innovation in European robotics and manufacturing, it is the main objective of this project to strengthen collaboration and cross-fertilisation between the industrial and the research community. Towards this aim we want to launch and run three industrially relevant challenges in European robotics with applicability to the factory of the future. These challenges cover the most promising application scenarios, and thus, product visions, of the European robotics industry; namely (with increasing timelines for productisation):

 Objective #2: Empowering robotics platforms and benchmark infrastructures

The second objective of this project is to empower robotics platforms and benchmark infrastructures to enable innovators to focus on their “challenging” research rather than wasting time with platform-related low-level problems and maintenance. Likewise the environments in which the platforms should operate will be set-up in such a way that they allow for the comparison of different methodological approaches to solving typical manufacturing use cases. On the Robot side system architecture frameworks, programming and simulation frameworks, and open interfaces on lowest levels will be provided. Furthermore, high-level functionality in the areas of perception, planning and control will be provided as to enable the challengers to test and validate their R&D work in meaningful contexts (typical use cases). Software components with the same functionality but different implementation and performance will become interchangeable, and therefore, comparable. By granting numerous researchers and technology developers access to these platforms and benchmark environments and by offering intensive support through hosts and robot manufacturers, it is expected that the platforms will be lifted to unprecedented performance levels towards the end of this project. For the first time, we will experiment new Internet-based technological solutions for granting access to a very large number of challengers to the simulation as well as to the early stage experimental challenges. We plan to provide, for one specific setup, full and safe remote access for programming the robots over the web as well as for using distributed computing resources. If this concept proves to be viable and efficient, it could open up entirely new perspectives and possibilities for future challenges by exploiting the multiplicative potential of cloud technologies.

 Objective #3: Sustainability and adaptability to end users

The third objective of this project is to develop sustainable solutions: Developed application solutions will be continuously tested and validated, first in realistic (benchmark environments) and then in real environments. Installations throughout the project will see increasing levels of maturity. Although driven by end-user requirements, the researched and developed solutions will be sufficiently general so that they could be applied to other end users, tasks and situations, and enable a fast commercialisation. Robustness will have to increase significantly to let the robots eventually work continuously. Finally, methodologies and tools shall be developed that allow carrying out further comparative challenges. Following this methodology, clear benchmarking criteria and evaluation processes shall be defined. Problems that cannot be solved within the timeframe of this project will be fed into the updating process of the robotics and the Factory of the Future roadmaps.

Stages of the Challenges

The three EuRoC challenges will be organised into three successive stages, as illustrated in this time line diagram over the 4 years of the project life, where the milestones (MS#) are indicated and the project workshops + dissemination events at major European venues are highlighted. On the time line the reviews are also indicated (R#).

Stage I – QUALIFYING: Simulation Contest

  • A call for challenge applications will be issued and published (04/2014).

  • In parallel, a call for end users and system integrators will be issued and published (04/2014).

  • Applicant teams could be formed by research experts (academia), solution‐oriented or innovating companies (industry).

  • Admission to qualifying stage is granted on the basis of 1‐page pitch: team description and objectives for challenges.

  • The simulation contests are ranked according to objective metrics (criteria and grading system). The best 45 contestants (3 × 15) are selected based on their scores in the tests in Mo11 to become prospective challengers.

Advance to next Stage:

  • Prospective challengers are given an opportunity to form teams with system integrators and end users (match making, first‐ranked first‐priority) and submit short proposals at 02/2015 with budget information (max. 15 pages), of which the best 3 x 5 will be selected to become the official Challenger Teams (03/2015).

  • The 30 (or less) excluded teams will receive each € 5000 for the effort in helping to devise the right benchmarks/tests/criteria. They can redeem this money at the benchmarking workshop where they can be recruited by the selected Challenger Teams (no challenger will be allowed to become a member in two proposals).

  • The evaluation will be carried out by the Challenge Advisory Board (CAB) with the help of external reviewers and renowned independent experts, and it will be based on novelty of the application, level of difficulty of the use case, potential market for it, strength of the team, further to the rank in the simulation contest.

Stage II – REALISTIC LABS: Benchmarking, free-style and showcase

  • Each Challenger Team will receive a financial support of up to € 375000, i.e. € 250000 for Round A (benchmarking + free‐style) and € 125000 for Round B (showcase). The support for B will be granted provided that the work performed in A is satisfactorily assessed.

  • A mid‐term evaluation will take place after Round A at 05/2016 so as to allow for a comparative assessment, with public competition @ Automatica 2016. The event will be attended by the CAB and four renowned independent experts for each challenge, who will decide admission to Round B.

  • Round B concerns with an end‐user driven task aimed at showcasing customizability under realistic manufacturing conditions.

Advance to final Stage:

  • A suitable challenge workshop will take place at each site (10/2016) with the attendance of the Challenge Advisor at‐Large (CAL), the Challenge Advisor for European Robotics Industries (CAERI), the Challenge Advisor for that challenge and four renowned independent experts.

  • Challenger Teams will be ranked according to objective metrics (criteria and grading system) the day after the workshop in a one‐day on‐site evaluation panel.

  • Upon approval by the EC, 3 x 2 Challenge Finalists will be selected for the Field Tests stage of each challenge (12/2016).

  • The remaining 9 applications developed in the Challenge stage represent very good candidates for exploitation by end users, but will no longer be funded by EuRoC; these 9 Challenger Teams are expected to exploit their results independently. (12/2016).

Stage III – FIELD TESTS: Pilot Experiments

  • This last stage involves much engineering effort because the general solutions developed during the Realistic Labs stage will be customised for end users and tested on the field. Only the 6 finalist teams will receive additional funding to carry out this last step from realistic to real manufacturing conditions.

  • The field tests will be carried out in 9 months under real (not “only” realistic) manufacturing conditions, and showcased minimum at one end‐user site per challenge.

  • This stage could be interpreted as prize money (€ 210000 for each Challenge Finalist), but it always comes with the obligation to prove reusability and adaptability of the benchmarked solutions in practice at real end‐user site.

  • In the end, 6 high‐value projects (pilot experiments) on 6 different use cases are brought to fruition, which are (very) close to commercialisation.

  • Meanwhile, the other 9 teams not receiving any funding will still be allowed access to the benchmark sites as to encourage them to bring their demonstrators closer to a commercial product or service.

EuRoC Winner:

  • The results of the field test will be demonstrated by the Challenge Finalists to the public during a final challenge workshop @ IPA site (Mo45). The other 9 Challenger Teams will be invited to this workshop for further demonstration of their benchmarking results.

  • At the end of the final challenge workshop, the 6 Challenge Finalists will undergo a final evaluation by a Board of Judges (BoJ.

  • Judging will be based on criteria such as technical feasibility, market and competition, potential of exploitation, benefit to the society, team skills, etc.

  • A EuRoC Winner will be selected by the BoJ and be awarded during a public final dissemination event at the EC site (12/2017).

Challenges

As a key factor for driving innovation in European robotics and manufacturing, it is the main objective of this project to strengthen collaboration and cross-fertilisation between the industrial and the research community.

Towards this aim we want to launch and run three industrially-relevant challenges in European robotics with applicability to the factory of the future. These challenges cover the most promising application scenarios, and thus, product visions, of the European robotics industry; namely (with increasing timelines for productisation):

In the following, the EuRoC challenges are matched to application scenarios and industry sectors of the “Strategic Research Agenda for Robotics in Europe” (SRA).

European Robotics Challenges

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