ICRA 2017 in Singapore – Building a Smarter Nation

“Will robots replace our jobs?” This is a common question that keeps popping up in lectures and conferences as entrepreneurs and practitioners are looking to robotics and automatic technology to solve world-wide problems, from shortage of labour to an ageing society. Instead of viewing robots as a replacement, countries like Singapore are turning to this innovative technology as a way to open up opportunities in healthcare, defence and manpower. Lane Nieset reports

Singapore is one of the many societies that faces the issue of an aging population and decline in younger people and is on the hunt for innovative technology that will create a sustainable world for current and future generations. It’s no surprise, then, that the city was chosen to host this year’s IEEE Robotics and Automation Society‘s flagship conference.

On May 29, 13 prominent robotics experts and over 3,000 delegates gathered in Singapore at the 120,000-square-metre Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre for the ICRA 2017 conference. This year’s theme centred on “Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Real-World Solutions,” highlighted the value of robotics and automation technology when it comes to solving problems around the globe. Over the course of the five-day event, 57 authors from around the world had the chance to present their work during interactive sessions, as well as attend a number of workshops, tutorials and technical tours.

Participants joined local researchers and experts to experience first-hand some of the projects already underway in Singapore, catching autonomous driving demos and examples of human-robot interaction at the Advanced Robotics Centre at the National University of Singapore. The conference also drew a wealth of talent to the city as keynote speakers, such as Dr. Ayanna Howard from Georgia Tech in the United States, crossed the globe to share about international issues. In her presentation, the professor examined how robotics could assist with paediatric therapy and solve real-life development goals for the 150 million children around the world living with a disability.

By coming together to present these ideas while also looking at the city’s living laboratories, the conference directly impacted Singapore’s goal of establishing a lasting legacy in the life-saving field of robotics. Delegates had the opportunity to not only gain and share knowledge, they could also showcase innovative ideas that have the potential to be put to use in real-life scenarios, using Singapore as a reference site for wide-scale adoption and commercialization of innovations.

“Normally with this type of academic conference, it’s focused on academic output, but we wanted to also focus on innovation,” explained co-organiser Albert Causo, a research fellow at the Robotics Research Centre, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University. “We tried to introduce new ideas this year in Singapore and selected quite a few robotic entrepreneur start-ups to showcase their projects. The whole conference was a good venue for them to meet other players like investors and researchers who are capable of building something that can be commercialized later. For potential investors, it’s easier for them to find everything they need in one place.”

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