euRathlon is go!

07 February 2013

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I’m very excited to be leading a new project called euRathlon – which is short for European Robotics Athlon. Up until now the project has been under wraps, but now – finally – we can go public. I’ll explain a bit more about the process that led to here later in this blog post, but first – about euRathlon.

It is an EU funded project to set up and run a series of outdoor robotics competitions. The focus is robots for search and rescue, or – more broadly – disaster response. Right now robots are not part of the standard equipment of emergency services, like fire brigades. But actually, robotics technology is coming close to the point where they could be and, in my view, should be. It seems to me that first responders should have robots as a standard part of their equipment, so that when there is a disaster robots are used as a matter of routine. euRathlon will, I hope, speed up the development and adoption of smarter robots for first responders.

The big vision of euRathlon is a competition scenario in which no single type of robot is, on its own, sufficient. Inspired by the Fukushima accident of 2011, our Grand Challenge will require teams of land, sea and flying robots to investigate the scene. Here is the project abstract:

euRathlon is a new outdoor robotics competition, which will invite teams to test the intelligence and autonomy of their robots in realistic mock emergency-response scenarios. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima accident the euRathlon competition will require a team of land, underwater and flying robots to work together to survey the scene, collect environmental data, and identify critical hazards. Leading up to this ‘grand challenge’ in 2015, will be directly related land and underwater robot competitions in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The euRathlon competitions will be supported by annual workshops for competitors. In parallel there will be an open process of developing benchmarks to allow comparison of different robots in the euRathlon competitions. Linked public engagement activities will connect euRathlon with robotics research, industry and emergency services, as well as the general public. Attendance of spectators will be welcomed, and we hope that euRathlon events will attract considerable press and media attention. By targeting a specific and urgent need – intelligent robots for disaster-response -euRathlon will provide European robotics with a platform for challenging, extending and showcasing European cognitive robotics technologies.

Followers of this blog will know that I’ve been involved in the European Land Robotics Challenge (ELROB) for some years. I blogged about it in 2010: Real-world robotics reality check, and in 2007: A truly Grand Challenge. So, when the EU Framework Programme (FP7) issued a call for competition proposals late in 2011 an opportunity arose for those of us involved in ELROB to think about bidding for a new competition, building on that experience and extending our ambition. We were very fortunate to link up with the organisers of the Student Autonomous Underwater Challenge – Europe (SAUC-E), a very well regarded underwater robot competition. We then had land and sea robots covered. The final piece of the jigsaw fell into place when we were joined by our final partner, organisers of the workshop on Research, Development and Education on Unmanned Aerial Systems (RED-UAS 2011), with huge experience of aerial robots.

The euRathlon consortium was complete, and together we submitted our bid in April 2012. Following evaluation the bid was successful and then, from September to December 2012, we went into a phase of project negotiation, in which we worked out and agreed the details of the project with the EC. That process concluded successfully, and the project started on 1 January 2013.

So now, euRathlon is go!

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Alan Winfield is Professor in robotics at UWE Bristol. He communicates about science on his personal blog.
Alan Winfield is Professor in robotics at UWE Bristol. He communicates about science on his personal blog.

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