Exclusive interview! - Susanne Bieller
In an exclusive interview for AUTOMATED, Jonathan Wilkins talks to Dr. Susanne Bieller, project manager at the European Robotics Association (EUnited Robotics) about the way the industry is changing and the role that SMEs and start-ups are playing.
AUTOMATED: Tell me a little bit about the vision and objectives of the European Robotics Association.
EUnited Robotics is the only robotics association specifically organised to serve the robotics industry in Europe. We provide a networking platform for all industry stakeholders, from robot manufacturers to component providers and system integrators.
Our networking opportunities provide the industry with the chance to find out more about future trends, challenges and the potential of digitalisation. We believe that the robotics industry is at the centre of the move towards a digital future, so we want to make sure companies are doing all they can to become a part of the movement.
How is the European Robotics Association helping Europe become a leader in the robotics industry?
In my opinion, Europe is already leading the way. Countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland are introducing some of the world's most cutting edge technology. By working together, these leading nations can help tackle some of the most prominent topics in the industry.
We are in an intensive dialogue with the European Commission and the European Parliament, to bring across the topics that matter to the industry and to find the right balance in the regulatory framework to support instead of hinder the innovation process.
What are the main changes you have seen in the industry over the last five years?
The industry is becoming much more focussed on IT, especially with the introduction of the Internet of Things. This is paving the way for increasing use of artificial intelligence, machine learning processes and digitalisation.
The collaboration between humans and robots on the factory floor is also becoming more accepted. Robots are making their way out of their enclosures and can now be found working in close proximity to the human workforce.
How do you see the robotics industry developing in the next decade?
The trends that are emerging now will continue to evolve over the next decade. Trends such as the Internet of Things are just starting off. I expect it will take another five to ten years until technologies like this are broadly used across industry.
With smaller and more affordable robots, decreasing costs for system integration and robots becoming more intuitive in use, the technology becomes more accessible to smaller businesses and start-ups. We can redesign many applications.
What do you think is the biggest change to come?
It has to be the increasing acceptance of human-robot collaboration. All major European robot manufacturers are introducing robots that can work in sync with the human workforce. If applications like this continue to flourish, we can expect work cycles to speed up and precision to increase.
What role do small businesses and start-ups play in the robotics industry?
SMEs and start-ups are known for being more agile and innovative than larger businesses. This suggests that these companies might be more likely to adopt newer
trends, such as collaborative robotics and machine learning, quicker than larger businesses would.
The development cycle in small businesses tends to be much shorter as there are fewer approvals needed. If SMEs continue to operate in this way, we could end up in a position where industry giants are learning from start-up mavericks.
What can small businesses and start-ups do to help the industry develop further?
Small businesses are already proving they have the creativity and agility to help the robotics industry develop — they just need to continue what they're doing and show larger companies what they could miss out on if they do not adapt and make the most of new robotics technology.
What skills do you think small businesses should be looking for when recruiting?
Small businesses need to have the management and communication skills to spread the word about how great their business is! The robotics industry in particular is extremely competitive at the moment, as lots of businesses are starting to realise the benefits of the technology. By communicating with the right people, in the right way, small companies can ensure they're first in line for business.
We have one final question that we ask every company we interview. Who is your tech hero?
There are far too many inspirations in the industry to name just one, but I am always inspired by robotics companies developing robotic exoskeletons that allow paraplegics to walk again.