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Session 1: Next Generation Robotics

The robots of tomorrow: evolution or revolution?

Once a visionary idea, now part of our everyday lives: Robots have become an integral part of our world and continue to revolutionize our production and work processes, as well as healthcare, nursing, and a multitude of other aspects of life. Their applications and capabilities seem limitless, don't they? What tasks will they be able to handle in the future? And what will next generation robots look like? Is it simply a matter of fine tuning existing skills or should we expect entirely new developments?

Leading robotics experts from around the world will address these and other questions:

Prof. Cecilia Laschi, National University of Singapore
Prof. Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena, Imperial College London
Dr.-Ing. Laura Marchal-Crespo, Delft University of Technology
Prof. Lucia Pallottino, University of Pisa
Session Chair
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Even though the kinematic systems of living beings often seem ordinary to us, they are actually more complex than any robotic system ever developed. Prof. Cecilia Laschi sheds light on this seemingly ‘simple complexity of nature’ in her Soft Robotics presentation—and derives the question: How can future robotics be inspired by nature to optimize efficiency?

The research conducted by Prof. Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena focuses on applications for mechatronics systems in healthcare—particularly in diagnostics and surgery. He addresses the present and future of robotic healthcare systems in light of increasingly commercialized hospital environments.

Dr.-Ing. Laura Marchal-Crespo has a vision: revolutionizing ergotherapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and neuropsychology using modern robot technology. Her approach? High-intensity training in a motivating and safe VR environment that helps people with motor learning and neurorehabilitation.

Robots will become fast, independent, very heterogeneous, and above all: ubiquitous—that is the hypothesis of Prof. Dr. Lucia Pallottino. In her talk, she will outline our path to a ‘society of robots’ in an attempt to create understanding of how a large number of very different types of robots will coexist, communicate, and collaborate in the future.

Speakers and presentations in this session

“Soft Robotics and the simple complexity of Nature”

Robotics technologies have reached a level of performance and reliability that are uncommon in other technological fields. Robots are helpful in factories, in hospitals, underwater and in the sky. They have a huge potential to help us at home, in our cities and in our daily activities, but not yet fully ready for that. Robots are complex systems, requiring important amounts of energy and computation to work properly.

If we turn our eyes towards living beings, we see systems that look simple in their behaviour, in natural environments, efficient, flexible and adaptable to unexpected situations. Yet, they are in fact way more complex than our robots. What are the principles for making complex systems simple in their behaviour? This is the lesson that we can learn from Nature, in robotics. We learn that intelligence is not only in brain and computation, but also in the body. A soft body can help take advantage of such embodied intelligence and reduce computation and energy needs.

Soft robotics has been growing fast in recent years and producing a variety of technologies for building robots with soft materials and compliant structures. Bioinspired soft robotics is enabling robot abilities that were not possible before, like morphing, stiffening, growing, self-healing, evolving. Soft robots find applications in many fields, from medicine to underwater explorations. We can envisage future scenarios with robots that are more life-like and better integrated in our natural world, contributing to a more humane relations with people and a fairer relation between technology and nature.

Cecilia Laschi is Professor at the National University of Singapore, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She is on leave from Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Italy, The BioRobotics Institute (Dept. of Excellence in Robotics & AI). She graduated in Computer Science at University of Pisa and received a Ph.D. in Robotics from the University of Genoa. She was JSPS visiting researcher at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Her research interests are in soft robotics, an area she pioneered and contributed to develop internationally, including its marine and biomedical applications. She has been working in humanoid and neuro-robotics.

She is Editor-in-Chief of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics and she serves in the Editorial Boards of many journals, including Science Robotics and serves as reviewer for journals like Nature and Science, for EC (incl. ERC), HFSP and national research agencies.

She is member of AAAS, senior member of IEEE, EMBS and RAS, where she is AdCom member and co-chair of TC on Soft Robotics. She founded and chaired the 1st IEEE-RAS Int. Conf. on Soft Robotics.

She co-founded the spin-off RoboTech srl.

Soft Robotics and the simple complexity of Nature

Robotics technologies have reached a level of performance and reliability that are uncommon in other technological fields. Robots are helpful in factories, in hospitals, underwater and in the sky. They have a huge potential to help us at home, in our cities and in our daily activities, but not yet fully ready for that. Robots are complex systems, requiring important amounts of energy and computation to work properly.

If we turn our eyes towards living beings, we see systems that look simple in their behaviour, in natural environments, efficient, flexible and adaptable to unexpected situations. Yet, they are in fact way more complex than our robots. What are the principles for making complex systems simple in their behaviour? This is the lesson that we can learn from Nature, in robotics. We learn that intelligence is not only in brain and computation, but also in the body. A soft body can help take advantage of such embodied intelligence and reduce computation and energy needs.

Soft robotics has been growing fast in recent years and producing a variety of technologies for building robots with soft materials and compliant structures. Bioinspired soft robotics is enabling robot abilities that were not possible before, like morphing, stiffening, growing, self-healing, evolving. Soft robots find applications in many fields, from medicine to underwater explorations. We can envisage future scenarios with robots that are more life-like and better integrated in our natural world, contributing to a more humane relations with people and a fairer relation between technology and nature.

Hightech-Summit Session 1: Next Generation Robots

“Medical Robotics in the Hamlyn Centre: Present Use Cases and Future Directions”

Surgical technology has experienced steady growth over the past three decades, with the widespread adoption of computer navigation and robotics finally on the horizon. Fuelled by unique experiences in technological development, clinical deployment and commercialisation, this talk will provide a unique take on the ups and down of surgical robotics research, followed by a glimpse into the future of this technology, with examples of new mechanisms, control strategies, visualisation technologies and machine learning schemes currently under development at Imperial College.

Ferdinando Rodriguez y Baena is Professor of Medical Robotics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, where he leads the Mechatronics in Medicine Laboratory and the Applied Mechanics Division. He has been the Engineering Co-Director of the Hamlyn Centre, which is part of the Institute of Global Health Innovation, since July 2020. He is a founding member and great advocate of the Imperial College Robotics Forum, now the first point of contact for roboticists at Imperial College.

His 20-strong team of staff and PhD students has a translational focus, though their work encompasses both “blue skies” research and “near-to-market” development. He is the Chair of the Programme Committee for the International Society for Computer Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery (CAOS International), CAOS UK, and the Hamlyn Symposium; He is also the founding Chair of the IET’s recently established Communities Committee for Technical Networks (CC TN), a Leverhulme Prize winner (engineering), a former ERC grant holder, and the coordinator of an €8.3M European project on robotic-assisted neurosurgical drug delivery (EDEN2020). He has published over 160 papers and secured in excess of £12M in research funding to date.

Medical Robotics in the Hamlyn Centre: Present Use Cases and Future Directions

Surgical technology has experienced steady growth over the past three decades, with the widespread adoption of computer navigation and robotics finally on the horizon. Fuelled by unique experiences in technological development, clinical deployment and commercialisation, this talk will provide a unique take on the ups and down of surgical robotics research, followed by a glimpse into the future of this technology, with examples of new mechanisms, control strategies, visualisation technologies and machine learning schemes currently under development at Imperial College.

Hightech-Summit Session 1: Next Generation Robots

“Robot-Assisted Neurorehabilitation: Hyper-Realistic Multisensory Robotic Training”

The possibility of using robotic devices and virtual reality to support motor learning and neurorehabilitation is promising since robots can deliver high-intensity training in a motivating and safe virtual environment. However, recent meta-analyses concluded that traditional robotic training yields similar or even inferior outcomes to conventional therapy, especially in activities in daily living. This is not surprising, since current rehabilitation robots only provide general assistance, independent of patients’ individual needs, to perform rather artificial movements that are far from being functional.

Laura Marchal-Crespo is Associate Professor at the Department of Cognitive Robotics, Faculty 3mE (Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering), Delft University of Technology, Netherlands. Her research focuses on the general areas of human-machine interaction and biological learning and, in particular, the use of robotic devices and immersive virtual reality for the assessment and rehabilitation of patients with acquired brain injuries such as stroke. A major goal of her research is to gain a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms associated with the acquisition of novel motor skills in order to develop innovative technology to improve neurorehabilitation. She develops intelligent controllers that modulate movement errors based on patients’ special needs, age, and training task characteristics using a wide selection of robotic devices for upper and lower limb rehabilitation. She further employs electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify neurocognitive markers underlying motor learning.

Robot-Assisted Neurorehabilitation: Hyper-Realistic Multisensory Robotic Training

The possibility of using robotic devices and virtual reality to support motor learning and neurorehabilitation is promising since robots can deliver high-intensity training in a motivating and safe virtual environment. However, recent meta-analyses concluded that traditional robotic training yields similar or even inferior outcomes to conventional therapy, especially in activities in daily living. This is not surprising, since current rehabilitation robots only provide general assistance, independent of patients’ individual needs, to perform rather artificial movements that are far from being functional.

Hightech-Summit Session 1: Next Generation Robots

“Toward a society of Robots”

Since its birth 60 years ago, robotics has witnessed a large growth and profound change in scope: from segregated robots in the past, to robots that currently are close to, and even in touch with humans. Indeed, both cognitive and physical human–robot interactions are largely studied in Robotics. Moreover, large systems of autonomous but networked units, capable of acting in and on the environment, will soon be a reality. Robots will be many, autonomous, possibly fast, and very heterogeneous. Hence, another fundamental aspect that must be faced is the robot–robot interaction. The goal is to understand how large numbers of robots, differing in their bodies, sensing, and intelligence, may be made to coexist, communicate, collaborate or compete fairly toward achieving their individual goals, i.e., to build a society of robots.

In this talk, we will discuss the main challenges in multi-robot collaboration and coordination showing examples of possible approaches in different applications areas and with both mobile robots and manipulators.

Lucia Pallottino is currently Associate Professor at the Centro di Ricerca "E. Piaggio" and the Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell'Informazione at the University of Pisa. She received the "Laurea" degree in Mathematics (1998) and a Doctoral degree in Robotics and Industrial Automation (2002). She has been Visiting Scholar at M.I.T. (2000-2001) in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS ). She has been Visiting Researcher at UCLA, (2004) in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department (MAE).

Toward a society of Robots

Since its birth 60 years ago, robotics has witnessed a large growth and profound change in scope: from segregated robots in the past, to robots that currently are close to, and even in touch with humans. Indeed, both cognitive and physical human–robot interactions are largely studied in Robotics. Moreover, large systems of autonomous but networked units, capable of acting in and on the environment, will soon be a reality. Robots will be many, autonomous, possibly fast, and very heterogeneous. Hence, another fundamental aspect that must be faced is the robot–robot interaction. The goal is to understand how large numbers of robots, differing in their bodies, sensing, and intelligence, may be made to coexist, communicate, collaborate or compete fairly toward achieving their individual goals, i.e., to build a society of robots.

In this talk, we will discuss the main challenges in multi-robot collaboration and coordination showing examples of possible approaches in different applications areas and with both mobile robots and manipulators.

Hightech-Summit Session 1: Next Generation Robots

Session Chair

Next Generation Robotics will be hosted by Session Chair Prof. Cristina Piazza, Assistant Professor at the Chair of Computer Aided Medical Procedures (TU Munich).


Technologies have the potential to assist humans and improve our quality of life. However, it is essential to design technologies with a focus on the benefits for the many, and not the few. Question of social justice and equity need to move to the center of technology development, particularly in fields such as AI and robotics. To this end, we must foster interdisciplinary collaborations between the social sciences and AI research and address social, ethical and political questions in an integrated way already during technology development.

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Session 2: Networking Intelligence

Future robots will be integrated into smart and self-learning systems – in industrial applications, medical engineering and pharmaceutical research.

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Session 3: Industrial Perception and Autonomy

Full potential of robotics can't be exploited without smart environmental perception. Evolution of machine vision is a prerequisite to autonomization.

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Session 4: Learning, Understanding and Interaction

Human-machine communication: from autonomous driving to social interaction

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