by Henrik I. Christensen
Japan and USA have strong research communities in robotics. In terms of volume there is probably relatively a similar research effort in Europe. It is, however, not obvious that there is a similar communication and dissemination within the European community. This poses a problem as researchers, engineers and students might look to the communities in Asia and USA for results, inspiration, etc. To address this problem the European Robotics Research Network has been established. The acronym for the network is EURON.
The network attempts to discuss activities according to five major topics: research co-ordination, education and training, publishing and meetings, industrial links and international links.
Research co-ordination attempts to define road maps for research and technology. Research road maps will in particular try to define long-term issues of relevance to Europe in general and the industry in particular. In addition it will explore cultural differences between Asia, USA and Europe, to ensure that research of particular relevance to Europe is identified (see also International Workshops on Robotics). The technology map will identify state-of-the-art and technological issues. In addition this area will define bench-marks that allow comparison of research results. Standards that allow exchange of results between laboratories and transfer of results to industry will also be discussed. Finally the network will attempt to set up a Web-based encyclopaedia in robotics.
In terms of education and training there are already significant activities such as TMR and HCM networks. There is, however, a need for identification of common curricula and exchange of teaching material. There is also an interest in use of common exercises and software that can be used as part of education. Finally there is a need for databases that identify major educational institutions, vacant positions and students interested in short and/or long-term foreign placement.
There are already a large number of conferences in robotics and there is no need for new conferences, but there might be a need for brain-storming workshop that identify major new trends, etc. There is also an interest in a common body that can assist organisers whenever major conferences are organised in Europe. In addition there is a need for a European news-letter that provides information about on-going activities etc. The network will thus provide sponsorship for conferences organised in Europe and an electronic news-letters is presently being set-up.
Today there are no common facilities for access to research results and expertise. It is thus often easier for companies to establish contact to groups in USA and Japan. To address this problem the industrial links activity will attempt to provide yellow-pages for research and development in the area of robotics in Europe. In addition the group will explore various facilities to enable closer contact between academia and industry to facilitate added economic growth.
There is of course a need to maintain strong links with researchers on other continents and there are several other bodies that discuss and co-ordinate R&D on robotics. To this end the international links effort is building collaborative links to these other initiatives.
The co-ordination and communication within the network is first and foremost achieved through an electronic infra-structure that include electronic mailing lists and access to a common collaborative workspace (based on BSCW). The common electronic mailing list (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the network at present includes about 150 European researchers and engineers.
For focussed activities the network is setting up ad-hoc interest groups that address a specific issue, such as RoboCup, manipulation, systems integration, haptics, learning, formal methods, etc.
The overall activities of the network are co-ordinated through an international advisory committee that includes many of the leading researchers and industrial players in Europe.
The network was established at a joint meeting in Salford, UK in April 2000. The meeting was attended by 40 researchers from all over Europe. At present it is investigated if the network can be supported by the European Community.
The network is open to all European research groups and industrial companies that have a reasonable level of activity on Robotics.
Henrik I. Christensen Centre for Autonomous Systems, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
Tel: +46 8 790 6792