How to deal with robots that get smart and will be part of every aspect of our lives as they go online? That was the central question during the second and final day of the International Masterclass Robotics 2016.

It was actually a robot that kicked-off the second day. Professor Eric Bartelsman spoke from Florence about the social-economic impact of robotics, using a telepresence robot. The technology worked perfectly, although Bartelsman wasn’t able to accept the present from moderator Arthur de Crook. “If I could, I would have bowed.”


Bartelsman gave some remarkable predictions. “Historically, simple clerical work would disappear. Complicated work not”, he said. But he is not so sure about the future. Robots can for example process much more medical images much better than highly educated doctors. So it could happen that complex work will disappear as well. “All bets are off.”

Gerard Smit, Chief Technology Officer of IBM Benelux concentrated on all the benefits artificial intelligence can have on human life. He illustrated it with all the applications IBM’s Watson has: from a designer dress to a cyber chef and a robotic cocktail-making bot. The developments are going fast. He predicted that from 2045 onwards it will be able to upload your consciousness into a computer-system. Immortality in reach within 30 years… wow!

"The biggest threat facing connected autonomous vehicles is cyber security”

But if we want to work together with robots, then how to make a design that fits both? That’s the question Catholijn Jonker, professor of interactive intelligence at Delft University of Technology elaborated on. It is important to focus on observability, predictability and directabillity, she stated. “If you are working in a team, in order to help someone, you have to be able to observe the things he does. Humans need to know what robots are doing, but robots need to know the intent of what humans are doing as well.”


After her talk, the floor was to the robots again. A Pepper robot introduced associate professor Koen Hindriks and his Robo-Tutor. What followed was an interactive session about the benefits of bringing robots to the classroom.

Robot swarms
Pepper and Nao were a duo. But what if you bring in a complete swarm of robots, smart robots? What will that do mankind? A lot, said associate professor Chris Verhoeven. “Robots are animals”, he argued. They have electronic nervous systems, electronic muscles and can communicate with each other. These electroids, as Verhoeven calls them, will be responsible for a next step in evolution.

This will have a big impact. And a good impact – if you take the human out of the loop, according to Verhoeven. Take drones, which can be a danger to airplanes. “Without humans, you get very strong swarms that learn to survive. Then you won’t have any planes crashing anymore by a drone because they want to survive.”

"Without humans, you get very strong swarms that learn to survive"

After this mind boggling talk, Arash Noroozi from ElpaNav focused on the benefits of indoor navigation. ElpaNav-technology can be very helpful for search and rescue missions and the fire department, he told us. “It makes it much easier to find possible victims.”

Responsible robotics
Ok. Time for a recap: the robot came out of its cage, got brains, spreads in swarms and is visible in every aspect of our lives. That has big ethical consequences. We were very happy that Filippo Santoni de Sio was with us to talk about the philosophical implications and to make a case about responsible robotics. “You have to think proactively of technology as part of society”, he said. Take self-driving cars. “We need to embed values in autonomous driving systems.”

“You have to think proactively of technology as part of society”

“The biggest threat facing connected autonomous vehicles is cybersecurity”, said professor of Safety Science at Delft University of Technology Pieter van Gelder. “The automotive industry has always been concerned with safety, not with security.”

Afterwards, Alberto Sanna, Health Director Scientific Institute San Raffaele gave an energizing talk about the good things robotics can do in healthcare. Think of robotic drug delivery, or a virtual reality rehab lab and personalised e-services for health. “The technological evolution supports patient safety and the quality of care.”


Valorisation Panel
Coming to an end, it was time to discuss business with the Valorisation Panel consisting of RoboValley’s co-founder Arie van den Ende, Paul Althuis of the TU Delft Valorisation Centre, Uwe Haass and Arthur de Crook. Together with the participants, they discussed statements about tech-transfer: How to improve the investment climate? And how can Europe stay competitive?

The strength of RoboValley is the collaboration which leads to the development of new robots, argued Haass. “You have to have shops in this network where people can come in and actually look at robots. So they can see: hey, this is an agricultural robot. I have never seen one, but now I have an idea about how to use them for my potatoes.” Just share it with others.

E-book ‘Living with robots’
Thank you Haass, and let’s start sharing right away! We closed the masterclass by giving the floor to Bram Vermeer. He handed over the ‘first’ copy of the new e-book ‘Living with robots’ to Paul Althuis. It’s a fascinating e-book, using all kinds of new techniques to present itself to the reader. You can download it for free here. So spread the word. And until next year!

To read about the first day of the International Masterclass Robotics 2016, click here.