Community Building for Responsible Robotics: Reflections from a Workshop in Agile Production 

On August 22, 2023, NTNU held the second of a series of digital workshops on robotics for agile production under the title  “Stronger together: The role of community building for responsible robotics in agile production”. During this workshop, we invited the audience, composed of members from the scientific community,  industry and civil society, to reflect on themes of responsible robotics in agile production and manufacturing. The importance of community building and collaboration was emphasized as a key driver for the responsible adoption of robotics.  


The event started with two keynote speeches: one from Gabor Sziebig, Research Manager at SINTEF Manufacturing, and the second from José Saenz, Fraunhofer IFF and founding member of EuRobotics and Karol Janik, Manufacturing Technology Centre and member of EuRobotics.

From both presentations emerged the importance of being part of a network or a community to be able to fully benefit from robotics. As pointed out by Saenz and Janik, robotics is an intrinsically interdisciplinary domain that brings together many different disciplines. Robotics is also ‘domain agnostic’ meaning that robotics solutions are applicable across the board. Therefore, exchange is fundamental to be aware of the existing solutions. In the case of small-medium enterprises (SMEs) presented by Sziebig, automation could bring a 60% decrease in costs, however, many SMEs are not aware of this. Raising awareness of the benefits of robotics is fundamental to ensure more widespread adoption. Collaborative robots were mentioned as one of the best routes for SMEs, making the benefits of robotics accessible to small-scale operation enterprises. EuRobotics, a European network bringing together research and industry sectors in robotics, is a successful example of what network and collaboration can do for the adoption of robotics. Both presentations stressed the need to not only collaborate among robotics experts but also with all the other stakeholders involved. 


During the workshop, the audience had the opportunity to discuss at length the advantages and challenges of community building around robotics for agile production. Issues around data protection and privacy emerged as a major concern. Transparency about who is collecting the data and for what purpose is needed to ensure trust between users and robots. In addition, software security is also important to prevent hacking or disturbances of the software. 


Participants also discussed the importance of collaboration between stakeholders to improve education and awareness about the benefits of robotics. The involvement of governments in support of automation efforts has been mentioned as a solution to fears of job replacement and misleading information. However, despite the benefits of community building, participants also highlighted how some dimensions are country-specific. Policy and regulations vary from country to country, as well as environmental concerns. This diversity should be reflected in the discussions about societal acceptance and taken into consideration when evaluating a robot’s readiness for society. Overall, while robot-human collaboration emerged once again as a main trend in the industry, there are still a lot of questions about data protection, policy and how to increase trust and acceptance. 


The goal of the Robotics4EU project is to promote the more widespread adoption of AI-based robots in Europe. In this workshop, we collaborated with innovators, researchers, citizens, and decision-makers working in agile production, which helped raise awareness of non-technological aspects of robotics among stakeholders. This workshop has been very interesting for Robotics4EU to gather feedback on the RoboCompass and understand sector-specific challenges.


Author: Silvia Ecclesia, NTNU

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