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EU to double its R&D investment in robotics

The EU will double its investment between 2007 and 2010 to support European robotics research, the European Commission announced.

The ambitious program, which will cost almost €400 million (about $620 million) in the four-year period, aimed at forging stronger links between academia and industry, and planned to fund a widespread experimentation by academic researchers and industry.

As part of its research program, the European Commission is taking steps to set up a technology transfer scheme between academia and industry, enabling European research labs to use industrial-strength robots for large-scale experimentation. The resulting scientific knowledge will directly be fed back to participating companies.

The commission also called on the industry to intensify its efforts in producing critical components in Europe, such as gears, in order to face competition from Asia and avoid strategic dependencies on other regions of the world.

The EU has a strong position in industrial robots for automation since about one third of all industrial robots are produced in Europe.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimated the current world market for industrial robots at about €4 billion and forecasted a 4.2% increase per year until 2010.

Service robots that operate outside the manufacturing domain offered opportunities for new applications and market expansion.

According to the IFR, growth in this market was expected to reach between 10% and 15% per year between now and 2010 and the number of professional service robots will grow from 40,000 in 2006 to 75,000 in 2010.

Service robots are used in many sectors, e.g. for the distribution of goods, for cleaning vehicles, in agriculture and in medical applications.

The commission said robotics is strategic for Europe's future competitiveness since manufacturing will only be maintained in higher wage regions such as Europe through automation.

Automation also played a key role in ensuring a sustainable production and minimizing wasteful use of resources and will contribute to help Europe's aging society by compensating for a declining labor force.

“There is a clear window of opportunity for automation industries in Europe, in particular robotics, not just to maintain leadership, but to grow further and to move higher up the value chain,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. (Xinhua)