French Robotics Industry to Get 100 Million Euro Boost

Robot on display at a Science Fiction exhibit at the British Library. Photo: Flickr.com/BadgerGravling

Robot on display at a Science Fiction exhibit at the British Library.
Photo: Flickr.com/BadgerGravling

Last month, Arnaud Montebourg, Minister for Industrial Renewal in France, announced at the European Robotics Forum in Lyon that a 100 million euro plan ($129.6 million), called the French Robot Initiative, would be introduced so that France could catch up to its competitors in the field. Montebourg wants France to follow Germany’s example, which currently has 150,000 robots in its industry, while France only has 35,000. According to Montebourg this is “a considerable gap,” when France is also behind countries like Sweden, Denmark, the United States, Spain, and now Thailand.

The event in Lyon celebrated the robotics industry in France in its promotional objectives. Over 300 robots were presented and displayed, 20 of which are still unreleased in France. “We consider robotics to be the next frontier of technological revolution,” Montebourg said, explaining that the new initiative is intended “to place France in the great nations of the world of robotics by 2020.” The robotics industry currently has a 3.5 billion euro market. By 2020, it is expected to reach 100 billion.

The initiative would create a unified national network for robotics in France, an investment fund dedicated to start-up robotics, and a support program for SMEs wishing to produce robots. The monetary support will be funneled through at least five “research and development challenges” that correspond to different sectors such as transport, defense and security, environment, intelligent machines, and personal assistance. New projects and business partnerships could supply France with intelligent vehicles, robots intended for extreme underwater or highly radioactive environments, and smart everyday objects with embedded software.

The government hopes to accomplish this by uniting 100 million euros of public and private funds. The largest supporter is Robolution Capital Fund, a venture-capital firm specializing in service robots, created by Bruno Bonnell, former CEO of games company Atari. Bonnell is founder of Innorobo which today creates household robots. Robolution is expected to contribute up to 3 million euros. It is expected that after France organizes and strengthens its research in the robotics sector it will be better positioned to win future subsidies from the European Union.

Bonnell explains that he views a robot as a “collaborator” with a human rather than an alienator or job-replacer, as some people perceive robots to be. According to a recent survey conducted by the European Commission, France is the fourth of 28 countries in Europe in the amount of doubt the French have that robotics can introduce new jobs. Montebourg said at the launch of the initiative that “there are hundreds of thousands of jobs to be created, and I intend to create them in France.” He expects that over the course of a couple of years, 70,000 jobs will be created. However the survey revealed that 74% percent of the French, four points higher than the European average, believe robots “steal people’s work.”

According to Robolution’s leader Bonnell, “The next industrial revolution is in robotics. I am convinced that the intelligence provided to objects will cause the same breakthrough technology, economy, and society as the invention of electricity and the advent of the Internet.”

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