European Robotics Forum 2017

Robots are revolutionising our society and economy and so it was with great excitement that Edinburgh welcomed the European Robotics Forum to the city in March this year, raising the profile of this key sector in Scotland. We caught up with one of the main organisers, Edinburgh Ambassador Dr Patricia A. Vargas from Heriot-Watt University, to find out more about this year’s theme of “Living and Working with Robots”.

Erf 2017
What is the main goal of the forum?

The European Robotics Forum is an influential forum for robotics researchers, bringing together academics, students, managers, and a growing number of entrepreneurs and business people from all over Europe, UK and also overseas. The event offers many opportunities for networking, through attendance at seminars and workshops, to consider the potential of robotics applications for business and societal needs as well as how they might create jobs. The exhibition allows companies and research organisations to demonstrate recent breakthroughs in robotics and their potential business applications.

What are the highlights of the forum?

We brought together a fantastic organising team that helped us to make this event a complete success. The official opening ceremony welcomed over 800 delegates to Edinburgh with presentations from euRobotics, Edinburgh Centre for Robotics and involved keynote speakers such as Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work and Raia Hadsell, Senior Research Scientist at DeepMind.

There were 66 individual workshops or seminars of 90 minutes each covering topics including Robots in Harsh Environments, Agri-Food, Neurorobotics, Health, Logistics, Construction, Underwater Robotics and Space Robotics.

There were also 30 exhibitors including Edinburgh Centre for Robotics who demonstrated iCub, their latest humanoid robot; N8 Research Partnership who shared their therapeutic robot seal as well as Softbank and PAL Robotics who bought along their humanoid robots.

Delegates also had the opportunity to visit Edinburgh Centre for Robotics facilities at the University of Edinburgh where a viewing of the NASA Valkyrie robot was a highlight of the tour.

A drinks reception and Awards Dinner were held on separate evenings at the National Museum of Scotland.  Both evening events were very well received by guests with the highlight being the Awards Dinner in the Grand Gallery where the evening ended with “Beat the Retreat”.

What support did you receive during the organisation of the conference?

We received fantastic support from Convention Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Ambassador Programme while we were preparing our bid.  We were working to a very tight deadline but they worked hand in hand with us to consider different venues for the conference and evening receptions, and played a key role in helping us to submit a winning bid. 

 Once Edinburgh was confirmed as the location for ERF2017, they continued to provide support with an accommodation booking portal, and provision of marketing materials.

We were able to tap into the wealth of experience of the professional teams at the venues for the conference (EICC) and the evening events (National Museum of Scotland).  They provided us with lots of helpful ideas and tips and gently guided us through the whole process, making a significant contribution to the smooth running of the conference.

What influenced the conference to come to Edinburgh?

There were a number of factors that influenced the conference to come to Edinburgh.

The city itself is a very attractive destination and the range of direct flights from a number of European cities made the logistics of attending the conference fairly straightforward. 

In addition, Edinburgh is a compact city; the fact that there are a number of hotels in various price brackets within walking distance of the conference venue appealed to the bid committee.

The venues for the conference and the evening events, and the professional teams that delivered these services met the demanding requirements of the forum. 

In addition the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a joint collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and The University of Edinburgh, is raising the profile of Edinburgh as a centre of excellence in Robotics.

Were there any new opportunities for your institute or research as a result of the conference?

The conference received a lot of media attention which helped raise the profile of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics and Heriot-Watt University not just locally but also internationally. It also brought euRobotics to the attention of a wider audience. The forum provided many opportunities for networking with researchers and companies working in the robotics sector.  

There was also great engagement from the public, for example: 

  • Keith Brown, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, spoke at the opening ceremony and visited the exhibition.
  • The BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones visited ERF2017 and enjoyed a beer poured for him by a robotic barman. You can see his coverage here.
  • Sky News also covered the event, see their video here.
  • #ERF2017 had 1M impressions on Twitter. From 19-25 March Edinburgh Centre for Robotics tweets earned 22.1K impressions.

Erf Awards Night

Would you have done anything different in hindsight?

We were very pleased by how well it went.  We received a lot of very positive feedback about how the organisation of the event allowed the event to run smoothly.  There were many compliments about the location and high standard of the conference facilities. The evening receptions at the National Museum were also well received, in particular the Awards Dinner.  

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