Robotics has become one of the key European industries, situated at the heart of many of Europe’s most competitive sectors, especially manufacturing. Europe has traditionally been in a strong position in the global robotics landscape, both scientifically and commercially.
About a quarter of all industrial robots and half of all professional service robots are produced in Europe. Many recent breakthroughs have come out of European labs, e.g the DeepMind software, which recently beat a human Go player.
Robotic innovations are found across a variety of applications. Traditionally, robots were used primarily for repetitive tasks in industrial settings, such as pick and place or transporting goods autonomously. Increasingly, so-called collaborative robots (or co-bots) are used which can work in close proximity of humans and no longer need a security cage. These co-bots greatly depend on co-creation efforts for their design and safe operation.
Robots are also increasingly used in professional service settings outside traditional manufacturing. Examples include surgical robots in hospitals or milking and harvesting robots on industrial farms. What is more, they have also entered private settings in the form of home vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers etc.
As robots enter more and more domains of human life, questions about responsible research and innovation are increasingly coming to the fore.
The growing use of robotics in social settings – e.g. education, health care, or elderly care – raise fundamental questions about public trust, policy control over the design and operation of these robots, and the very nature of our societal fabrics. Robotics has also made considerable inroads into the domains of medicine and prosthetics, raising new questions about the legal and moral status of cyborg-type interventions and the implications of a potential new era of human enhancement. Across the board, concerns around data privacy and security are growing louder, especially in the interconnected age of an Internet of Things. This fear is further exacerbated by the potential risks posed by hacking and malicious manipulation.
Here, co-creation mechanisms promise a way forward and have already gained increasing attention and traction in the robotics community, including in industrial manufacturing and farming, social robotics, health care, and prosthetics, among others.
Energy provision is a key aspect in achieving a sustainable future. It is an unprecedented technological challenge to meet rapidly growing worldwide energy demands and at the same time respecting ecological, economical, and societal values.
The transition to sustainable energy should be made as fast and profoundly as possible. In the “2030 Framework for climate and energy,” the EU aims to achieve a more competitive, secure, and sustainable energy system and to meet its long-term 2050 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.
The “Energy Roadmap 2050” focuses on decarbonizing the energy system by strongly increasing energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy. The far-reaching Energy Union targets are crucial to limiting energy costs in the future and can only be reached when innovations that result in a certain energy mix fit with local values, norms and cultures.
SCALINGS focusses on urban energy because it is a part of the energy transition where humans, their values, and technology are inextricably intertwined. This presents a good opportunity for studying co-creation and associated aspects of responsible research and innovation.
People, whether individuals, families, or residents of flats neighborhoods, cities, or regions, all have to decide on and are determined by smart grids, photovoltaics, flexible energy infrastructures, energy control systems, etc. Together they will also have to decide on values such as privacy, autonomy, security, control, the balance of power, and more.
The need for co-creation processes and responsible research and innovation is demonstrated by the exponential growth of smart cities, which focus on energy efficiency, energy cooperatives, innovative procurement of energy, and continuous industry-university collaborations in all kinds of energy innovations. It is necessary to have a clear view regarding how to make co-creation processes more efficient, value sensitive, robust, and responsible. Doing so will result in a large return on investment.
The car industry is increasingly shifting its focus to the development of autonomous, or self-driving, cars. Many driverless vehicles are already being tested and prepared for real traffic. Along with the development of smart-city infrastructure, autonomous and connected cars have become an obvious part of European visions of cities in the future. As one of the biggest exporters of automobile technologies, the EU is influential in the transition to autonomous driving.
Autonomous driving holds a promise of safer traffic and less accidents. If the vehicles in a city are connected and aware of their surroundings, they can anticipate the oncoming car traffic better than human drivers can. The interconnection of vehicles could be used to maximize efficiency in transport and overcome congestion. Driverless cars can also make easy and comfortable transport more accessible for those who cannot drive. However, issues like these will not be solved merely by creating efficient autonomous cars. They require a careful combination of technology development, planning, research, education and new legislation.
Driverless cars present a multitude of ethical and social problems. The configuration of an autonomous car’s algorithm, for instance who it protects in case of an unavoidable collision, can have grave ethical implications. These questions require thorough consideration. New legal regulations are also required to determine who should be held accountable for such incidents. A transition to a new way of transport has enormous social implications. The ways in which a city’s transport is planned determines who has access to transport and when. The transition to self-driving cars is not an easy task from the practical point of view either. In order for the vehicles to work safely and efficiently, city infrastructure and roads must be adapted to suit them. The magnitude of changes required will affect everyone.
Therefore, it is important that the voices of everyone are heard when making decisions about the transition to autonomous cars. Co-creation promises possibilities for creating a new self-driving world together with municipalities, academia, industry and citizens. Because of the grand scale of autonomous driving infrastructure, co-creation requires large cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders.