The EU needs to enhance its autonomy in case they want to compete in equal conditions in the next -and digital- era. This is a fact. When examining the viability of European digital sovereignty, we must say that, although the Eurozone – world leader in several non-digital sectors – maintains the second position in the development of global digitization, it does not neglect the potential of the EU digital transformation of the internal market.
This is evidenced by EU fines on global digital giants, regulatory efforts at the GDPR level and the works on privacy of networks. However, what is really decisive for its positioning will be the orientation of the traditional industrial sectors towards a solvent digital transformation process through the improvement of the tech areas where the digital is combined with the “physical”.
Technologies such as simulations on supercomputers, 3d printing, cyber-physical systems or automatically guided vehicles (AGVs) intrafactory or Robotics, will play a key enabler role to transforming the EU “physical” industrial potential towards the digital.
In this sense, EU’s flagship initiatives for the digitization of European SMEs as RobotUnion or I4MS, have contributed with hundreds of million euros to encourage early adopters of this process of digital transformation. These initiatives are preparing the ground to allow the EU to compete with China and the United States.
Policy-makers are already speaking about EU’s own cloud platforms or European microprocessors that would reduce external digital dependence. Robotics also play a key role in the development of EU’s digital sovereignty maximizing benefits for all parts of society including the wide variety of social, economic and territorial contexts in Europe. In this sense, and in words of the EU, there are three main challenges:
- Although Europe has been a leading player in research and innovation across a number of industrial sectors, this position is more than ever at stake and eroding. Reliance on imported key technologies and raw materials is compromising Europe’s autonomy.
- Europe’s industry can adapt to planetary boundaries, through a transformation that will allow it to cope with a scarcity of resources, including energy; and to reduce its large share of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and waste.
- Developments in industry and in enabling technologies have the potential to enhance social inclusion. Workers, regions and societies are faced with extremely fast transformations, including the impact of digitisation and climate change.
These challenges have been transformed into EU Policy Objectives set in the Horizont Europe scheme against this background. In particular, three objectives will be pursued across an specific cluster design to cope with this challenges from the industry point of view for the period 2021-2027.
This cluster is in on Digital, Industry and Space, in synergy with other EU instruments and initiatives set in a much more wider strategy. However, the novelty here is that more the half of the budget of the Horizont Europe scheme has been granted for this cluster with the idea of Enabling technologies ensuring European leadership and autonomy:
- Ensuring the competitive edge and autonomy of EU industry.
- Fostering climate-neutral, circular and clean industry.
- And major contribution to inclusiveness.
Together with IA, and driven by the increased computing power, the availability of large amounts of data (the essential raw material for innovation, competitiveness and growth) and smart devices, smart robots and robotics will shape the strategic development of smart manufacturing technologies of the 21st century.
In words of the European Commission, “the way we approach AI and Robotics combined will define the world we live in between a powerful global competition”. Then a collective and decisive EU Research and innovation agenda for AI and Robotics will be instrumental in bringing its benefits to all our citizens and businesses whilst ensuring high ethical standards.
To this end, the EU will promote the adoption of principles and global standards which will ensure an ethical approach to the development and use of technologies at both EU and international level. Citizens will experience the advantages of AI in daily life, such autonomous driving to reduce citizens everyday stress and drastically reduce the number of road accidents, to truly automatic devices adapted and satisfying human and industrial needs, to support them in specific tasks, improving their working conditions, and making the technology easy to use by all, even the non-experts.
The introduction of AI and autonomous behaviour in complex, safety- and time-critical systems, such as those used in large transport networks, avionics, health or industrial applications, is a technological challenge but also a significant business opportunity for which Europe has a competitive advantage. Europe also needs to deploy a human-centric, ethical and trustworthy standards, crucial for its acceptance. The challenges in AI and Robotics will include foundational research improving hardware, algorithms, achieving explainable AI (transparent decision making), adaptive learning, and improving smart, collaborative, safe and efficient robots and autonomous systems, as well as applied research to demonstrate progress for applications needs. Common AI platforms and reinforced collaboration among researchers are expected to combat fragmentation.
Robotics is here to stay and companies, as well as citizens, must be ready for the transformation not only due to economic and social benefit, but for the sake of Europe values and autonomy in the nearest future.
Written by Juan Antonio Pavón for RobotUnion.