29 : The socio-economic ambitions assigned to the PIAs (2)

29 : The socio-economic ambitions assigned to the PIAs (2)

Inventing a future for robots

The objective of having this equipment, for UTC, is to reinforce its Heudiasyc laboratory’s potential, to enable the research teams to carry out smart vehicle experiments (land-based and airborne). “With Robotex, UTC focuses on mobile robotics, making good use of the expertise we have assembled over 15 years. Today, we are finishing the first phase of the equipment investments installation. We have received three vehicles that we are fitting with instruments and sensors, a laboratory on wheels a test track and a drone test flight area. We feel the same, I suppose, as if we had been granted a particle accelerator!” says Philippe Bonnifait, research scientist at the UTC-Heudiasyc laboratory, who is responsible for the UTC Equipex and the sub-network “Mobile land and air-borne mobile devices” in the Robotex programme. After modification, the three all-electric cars (two Zoe’s and a Fluence from Renault) will be totally operable via computer. The “driverless” runs will be carried out on our test track, part of the UTC Innovation Centre, as will the drone flight area – the first out of five air-borne robots is already operational.

A structuring programme for UTC-Heudiasyc

All told, the equipment represents a budget of 1.5 Meuros, 800 000€ of which came from the Robotex programme. “Thanks to our Government labelling under ‘Equipex’, we have been able to raise extra funds”, underscores Philippe Bonnifait. “Robotex has proved to be a very structuring programme for UTC-Heudiasyc and has generated a dynamic in-house feeling for mobile robotics and allowed us to receive some remarkable equipment. It is a great opportunity for us and our research teams can experiment their ideas with a high degree of freedom and at scale one.” The Heudiasyc teams are focusing on control functions and robotics, with applications in perception, localization, control and navigation of the vehicles, solo or in groups and in co-operation with human operators. Robotex also procures better national and international visibility, consolidated links with automobile manufacturers, drone assemblers, etc. The UTC-Heudiasyc closed ranks with two of UTC’s partners, Renault, PSA and also Parrot, who build civilian drone. “There are numerous applications and we are only at the beginning of driverless vehicles and air-borne robots that will no doubt ne common a few years’ time” foresees Philippe Bonnifait. “Both French and German constructors are announcing driverless cars for year 2020!

Catching up on France’s lag in robotics

The second phase of the project relates to ensuring regular use of the equipment. The aim here is to raise funds to ensure planning of experiments on a regular basis. UTC is building for this purpose a network of the 15 Robotex laboratories, to exchange know-how, return on experience, on technologies … and to open Equipex facilities to new academic and industrial actors. “We would also like to see Robotex registered with other European-scale projects. France come in 3rd place in terms of its scientific publications, but has no less than 1 000 research scientist and engineers in the field of robotics. But Franc has a lag in associated experimental research: Robotex could provide the opportunity to catch up on the gap and stay in the global robot race, inasmuch as you need cutting edge equipment to stay at the forefront of research”.

Robotex key figures

  • 15 laboratories : CNRS joint units at the Universities of Montpellier, Grenobles, Poitiers, Strasbourg, Rennes, Franche-Comté, Nice, Marseilles, Paris6 (Pierre & Marie Curie), Cergy-Pontoise, Université de Technologie de Compiègne (UTC), Ecole Centrale Nantes, Ecole des Mines de Nantes
  • Allocation: 10.5 Meuros
  • Research thematics: the main robotics themes that will impact on Society. Humanoid robotics that will assist partly disabled persons (reduced mobility), industrial and medical robotics (micro and nano devices), mobile robotics for the promising field of transportation and security.

What exactly is an Equipex ?

With a budget envelope of one billion euros, the first call to tender for “excellence equipment” is designed to enable French laboratories to acquire cutting edge scientific intermediate range research equipment (costing between 1 and 20 Meuros) to carry out world-class research, “for the purpose of furthering the advancement of knowledge and innovation”. Out of 336 projects deposited at the French ministry of Higher Education & Research, only 52 were selected as viable. 340 Meuros were allocated to the laureates. UTC is involved in two projects selected - Robotex and Figures. These two projects are among the 12 that were allocated more than 10 Meuros each.