robotics applications, European SMEs
Dr Sotiris Makris

Dr Sotiris Makris, from the Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems & Automation, explains how innovative SMEs can implement and prove new technology, including robotics, that addresses real-life problems

Europe is home to a great number of innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), capable of producing and delivering highly innovative solutions for the industry. However, SMEs face difficulty in overcoming the infamous “Valley-of-Death”, which “traps” innovations from being transferred to the market. ESMERA provides the means for innovative SMEs to implement and prove new technology that addresses real-life problems and, thus, already have a market.

The European Commission has been supporting the industrial uptake of KETs in Europe. Key Enabling Technology – hereafter “KETs”– are the technology that enables process, goods and service innovation throughout the economy. In terms of robotics, such technology involves but are not limited to: novel robotic structures, mobile robots, manipulators, sensing technology, gripping and actuation mechanisms, navigation and control software, perception, among many other areas. Also, Europe is home to plenty of innovative SMEs, capable of producing and delivering highly innovative solutions for the industry. However, SMEs face difficulty in overcoming the infamous “Valley-of-Death”, which “traps” key enabling technology (KET) products and services from being transferred into the marketplace.

Within the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, the project ESMERA aims to boost robotics innovation for European SMEs. ESMERA aims to embrace and support SMEs that are oriented towards the development of novel technology and require both technical and business support to accelerate the transfer of their ideas to market.

In the scope of ESMERA, key European companies defined real-life industrial challenges, that is specific problems that seek innovative solutions in manufacturing, construction, energy and agri-food. SMEs are developing robotic technology to provide solutions for these challenges. Thereby, SMEs get a chance to implement, apply and prove new technology that addresses real-life problems and, thus, already have a market.

On this basis, ESMERA aims to support SMEs in the realisation, testing and promotion of robotic technology through:

Providing industrial challenges defined by key European Union (EU) companies, stimulating SMEs to flourish by developing and promoting new technology to address real-life problems that already have a market.

Engaging several competence centres that can provide an accessible environment for developing, evaluating, testing and demonstrating novel robotic technology.

Offering direct financial support through a cascade funding mechanism to supplement the technical excellence offered by the competence centres, allowing prototype/product creation and promotion.

Offering mentoring and support in developing business cases and managing the complete chain from “idea to market product” by EU champions in robotics that have successfully undergone the process.

Involving industrial associations and networks that can directly promote the developed solutions to their members, therefore, addressing a wide range of industrial sectors and applications.

The project relies on the execution of a number of cross-border technical mini-projects, which have been defined as so-called “experiments” involving SMEs, industrial end-users and facilitators. The single experiments are heading on the path towards developing and realising robotics solutions. Based on that, SMEs have the opportunity to produce tangible results by applying high tech in practical industrial applications. These results can be validated and communicated and appropriate plans to exploit these can be set in motion. ESMERA is offering expertise by the so-called Facilitators, who lead the mentoring of research experiments and eventually support the concrete commercialisation plans through engaging with distribution partners, investors and working with first users in the industry.

In addition, the results of this first industrial application will be the basis to enable the continuous development of research experiments (after the end of the experiment). By closely monitoring the evolution of the experiments, the Facilitators actively support SMEs and aim to help them develop their strategy to maximise and exploit the potential of each experiment. The experiments being currently supported by ESMERA are covering a broad range of application areas.

Some examples of experiments being funded are listed below and follow the above-mentioned process:

AutoTAP deals with Automated Taping of Wire Harnesses and addresses the current manual approach used by companies to assemble wire harnesses with insulating taping.

WIRECOBOTS deals with Wire harness assembly using collaborative robots to increase efficiency and ergonomics aims to provide a robotic solution to the ESMERA-M.1 challenge: wire harness assembly task.

eQUALS deals with a Quality Check System for automotive paint shop, aims to advance the quality control in manufacturing paint shops using robotics technology.

REFLECT develops Human Robot Cooperation for Flexible Parts Manipulation, inspires to provide solutions to the problem of flexible parts assembly in dishwasher by implementing a dexterous gripping device in a collaborative robot.

MINOTAUR-R develops Magnox spring sorting with autonomous robot in the radioactive environment and aims to increase the confidence over Nuclear Waste Sorting technology in the nuclear industry, scientific and technological community.

CAROB addresses the need of farmers to replace current weeding techniques by autonomous mechanical weeding.

COBOLLEAGUE focuses on Robotic Colleague for Construction Environments, proposes the development of a highly modular collaborative autonomous ground robot equipped with a gravity compensated mechanism for the autonomous transportation of heavy parts and the collaborative handling of heavy tools in construction sites.

EREVOS investigates Aerial survey of railways with drones for vegetation management and aims to deliver a novel full-fledged solution for the aerial monitoring of railways using drones for vegetation management and boundary structure inspection.

SPAIW focuses on Solar Powered Autonomous In-row Weeder, offering weeding solutions which aim to be lightweight, autonomous and able to clean both between and within the rows of crops, such as beets.

NIX develops a Certifiable Navigation Module for Ground Robotic Inspection, intends to develop and commercialise a robot platform for remote inspection in harsh environments.

MANDEYE focus is on localisation/navigation/perception/collision avoidance system for mobile robots working in harsh environments.

ESMERA is a four-year project funded by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 research initiative. The consortium is coordinated by the Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems & Automation, University of Patras (LMS). The project consortium involves several research institutes, namely the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), IK4 TEKNIKER, Technical University of Munich (TUM) and three industrial companies: R U Robots, Blue Ocean Robotics (BOR) and COMAU.

ESMERA distributes to SMEs financial support of 4,4 M€ in the form of open calls. The second open call of ESMERA is currently open and SMEs are invited to submit their applications to receive funding on developing advanced robotics technology. More information is available on the project website.



*Please note: This is a commercial profile

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Mechanical Engineer
Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems and Automation, University of Patras
Phone: +30 2610 910 160
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