“Will robots take over?” and “Will robots take our jobs?” are the most frequent robot predictions searched for on Google. The internet, alas, does not always have accurate answers. But if anyone knows what the future holds in store for robots and humans, it’s the international community of experts set to meet at the Skolkovo innovation city on April 21 for the Fifth Skolkovo Robotics International Conference 2017.

Robots and a brain-computer interface on display at last year's Skolkovo Robotics. This year's event will be held in the Skolkovo Technopark, and will feature dozens of robots being demonstrated for the first time. Photo: Sk.ru.

The combined conference and exhibition will address concerns associated with robotics in sessions such as “Combat Robots: A Danger Recognized or Unexpected?” but the overall focus is firmly on the possibilities created by robots.

“Right now, among the multitude of breakthrough technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence are justly being given the status of strategic technologies,” says Albert Yefimov, head of Skolkovo’s Robocentre.

“The influence of automation and intellectualisation on all aspects of modern life will be shocking. Our task is not only to inform people and prepare them for the coming changes, but to come up with solutions that will help Russia to respond to the challenges of the age.” 

These issues will be discussed in detail in four panel discussions: Robots and Society, Robots and Humans, Robots and the Law, and Robots and National Security. 

Albert Yefimov, head of Skolkovo's Robocentre. Photo: Sk.ru

What the conference speakers can answer for certain is the question “what can robots do for humans?” The robotics experts know this from their own experience, not least plenary session speaker Vyacheslav Dovgan, who drove Lunokhod-1 and Lunokhod-2: the Soviet Union’s robotic lunar rovers that landed on the moon in the 1970s.  

Robots can give people superhuman strength, as Serge Grygorowicz, founder and CEO of the French company RB3D will explain in a talk on the assistive robots market. RB3D is the maker of the Hercules exoskeleton designed to multiple the physical strength of its human wearer, for use in industry and the military.

Robots can also be used in emergency situations, both to detect them and then control them, when humans cannot safely perform those functions. The use of unmanned systems for this purpose will be presented by Frank E. Schneider, head of mobile cognitive systems at the Fraunhofer Institute.

Other topics of discussion include autonomous driving technology, facial expression recognition, and educational robotics.

“Robots are gradually becoming a significant part of our everyday lives, from quadrocopters that are already a common sight flying overhead, to smart programmes that win in computer games. They manage complex production lines, and help elderly and ill people,” said Alexander Kuleshov, president of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), which, together with the Skolkovo Robocentre and Moscow Technological Institute, is organising the event.

Skolkovo Robotics is as much about practice as about theory, and there will be more than 50 various kinds of robots on show at the event – half of which are brand new projects that are being demonstrated for the first time. Others are high-profile Skolkovo residents, such as Promobot, RoboCV, ExoAtlet and KB Avrora.

Robots built to resemble humans will discussed in two conference sessions by Abderrahmane Kheddar, director of research at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, and Nikolaos Mavridis, a professor at Innopolis University in Kazan. But the robots on display in the exhibition will range from flying robots and underwater robots to robotic hands, a talking robotic octopus, robots built to resemble humans, and robots designed to resemble, well, robots. 

This year's exhibition features underwater robots. Photo: Sk.ru

Now in its fifth year, Skolkovo Robotics 2017 will be held for the first time in the giant Skolkovo Technopark. Taking advantage of the new spacious venue, the event will also feature 15 engineering master classes. 

Those wishing to take part in the masterclasses should sign up to do so in advance. The classes on offer include those for children from as young as five, in which participants will have the chance to design spaceships, assemble a model aeroplane and then learn how to launch it correctly, or learn about 3D printing and how to programme robots. For tech enthusiasts aged 16 and over, there is a masterclass devoted to solving real engineering tasks in robotics, and another devoted to aerospace engineering, among others. 

Skolkovo Robotics is a firmly international event, and all the conference proceedings will take place in both Russian and English. The international speakers also include Jong-Oh Park, director of the robot research initiative and professor of mechanical system engineering at the Chonnam National University in South Korea, and Gudrun Litzenberger, general secretary of the International Federation of Robotics.     

Skolkovo Robotics will take place on April 21 at the Skolkovo Technopark. The event is free of charge but participants should register in advance. Free shuttle buses will run to Skolkovo from Park Pobedy metro station. Directions, the conference programme, a list of master classes and other information can all be found on the event’s website.