The word “Robot” comes from an old Slavonic word, “Robota”, meaning forced labor or drudgery. Although robotic machinery has been around for a long time, the use of modern robots in industry can trace its roots back to the early 1950’s. Fast forward 70 years and the global robotics market is now expected to reach US$275 billion by 2025 with a CAGR of 16%.
The latest World Robotics report shows an all-time high of 517,385 new industrial robots being installed in 2021. This equates to a growth rate of 31% year-on-year. This phenomenal progress has a direct relation to the funding from Governments of respective countries. Today, Robots have a wide range of applications and this includes in educational, industrial, military, farming, domestic and even social use.
The move into robotics has been a natural fit for Switzerland as it excels in high-end precision machinery and electronics. And how does Switzerland utilise their excellence with robotics to explore the rapidly increasing use of Artificial Intelligence?
Simply stated, Switzerland’s strength lies in its research and start-ups, especially when it comes to new materials, programming and Artificial Intelligence. One centre for research excellence in Switzerland is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne or EPFL. (Ranked 16th worldwide in QS World University Rankings 2023), Professor Aude Billard and her team at the EPFL, develop software for existing robots to improve their capabilities.
Switzerland has become a world leader in the robotics field in the last decade thanks to work by artificial intelligence pioneers like Professor Billard, who heads the algorithms and learning systems laboratory at the University.
- In 2010 the Swiss National Science Foundation a public organisation that supports research, launched the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR), which groups six schools and technical institutes under the direction of the EPFL.
- After 12 years and a spend of CHF85 million, the Swiss Innovation Agency launched an NTN Innovation Booster for Robotics, providing it with CHF500’000 in annual funding and to be headed by Professor Billard.
- Although the focus up to now has been on cutting-edge research, the attention is now turning to fulfilling the growing market demand for robots of all types. According to Professor Billard “at least ten projects a year will be supported and newcomers to the field will also gain access to financing.”
Switzerland is also one of the key driving forces of the drone industry and the first country in Europe to use U-Space – a new airspace management system for drones. The Swiss drone industry is known for it’s multi-sector approach and involvement of partnering institutions and this is one reason why Switzerland has a solid reputation for being a drone technology leader.
The worldwide drone market generated US$22.5 billion in 2020 and this could double to reach US$45 billion in 2025. From this, it is estimated that the Swiss drone market will reach CHF435 million in 2021 – with over 70% of that being in the service sector.
The Zurich economic area also contributes considerably to Switzerland’s reputation in robotics and drones. Its universities, such as the ETH (ranked 11th in Europe, 29th globally), the University of Zurich and technology companies, belong among the world’s leaders in information science, computer vision, sensor technology and artificial intelligence.
- Switzerland is at the forefront of the professional drone industry.
- The University of Zurich led the NCCR’s research into search-and-rescue robotics, while EPFL scientists have been working on how to improve the agility, flight time and speed of the next generation of drones, creating devices that look like birds.
- The professional drones are used mainly for observation purposes, deployed in locations that are difficult to access and also increasingly used by farmers.
According to Kevin Sartori, co-founder of Auterion, “Zurich has become the world’s leading location for the development of the core technology for drones, i.e. software, autopilot, and sensors”.
Innovators in the so-called Drone Valley situated between the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne, are the source of more than 2’500 jobs within the 80 companies located in the area. Even start-ups from outside of Switzerland tend to locate there when moving to Switzerland.
British computer pioneer Alan Turing, developed his Turing Test in 1950 to determine whether a computer programme could pass as human, using artificial intelligence and this is still used today. Swiss Robotics Pioneers across the country now use AI to develop new robotics technology used by other countries around the world in the production of robots for various uses.
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