Understanding Society

Tilburg University is convinced that it can contribute to solving social issues by developing and transferring knowledge and bringing together people from various disciplines and organizations.

Thanks to a robot, Mrs. Van Veldhoven can continue to live at home independently

2nd Brabant Robot Challenge

2nd Brabant Robot Challenge

The final of the Brabant Robot Challenge (BRC) is over, concluding the second edition of this annual event. Some three years ago, Tilburg University Professor of Labor Market Studies Ton Wilthagen launched the initiative as he was developing the interdisciplinary Master’s course together with PhD student Robbert Coenmans. Today, a growing network of educational institutions and organizations is involved in the BRC. The BRC focuses on practical challenges encountered in robotics.

Pitches for the professional jury 

Six interdisciplinary student teams tackled a variety of issues, ranging from ‘How to employ drones in fire prevention’ to ‘How to reduce workplace stress for health care employees working in homes’. The ideas and conclusions were shared at the Holland Robotics Congress during the Vision, Robotics & Motion trade fair at the green Conference Center Koningshof in Veldhoven, where dozens of companies specializing in robotics presented their latest inventions and applications. Each team got seven minutes to explain their challenge, share their research, and present their solution, after which the contributions of the teams were evaluated by a jury consisting of four professionals.

Winner of the 2018 Brabant Robot Challenge

It took the jury a long time to reach a decision. In their judgment, they took into consideration the innovativeness, concrete applicability, and affordability of the ideas developed. The student team that came out on top was Centrale24. The question they had focused on was: ‘How can we arrange for Mrs. Van Veldhoven to keep on living in her own house and guarantee her safety at the same time?’ Mrs. Van Veldhoven is quite advanced in years and is living in permanent fear of falling in her own home. She would very much like to continue to live at home independently, but the risks involved are growing. The students came up with a solution by deploying a small domestic robot with sensors. This robot can detect falls and, if necessary, alert family, neighbors, or emergency services.

A student’s experience

Tilburg University philosophy student Jaime van den Heuvel was one of the students taking part in the challenge. The issue tackled by her team for Van Nynsel was the question of how to improve working conditions for health care workers. She experienced the considerable value of an interdisciplinary approach in the BRC.

“What is so nice about the Brabant Robot Challenge is that you can discuss your views of robotics with different students. This is a learning experience for all parties involved. You come into contact with other disciplines and you learn to look at robotics from different perspectives. This is crucial in the development of robotics. If a technician is only interested in how he can build a robot that is as human as possible, it is a good thing if someone else poses critical questions about the ethics of the project.

It is very important to be aware of the fact that people are able to pause for thought in everything they do, to think of the consequences of their actions. A robot cannot do this in the way that people can. If an industrial robot has a glitch in assembling things, that does not necessarily need to be a problem. However, in care or in other social situations in which a robot is used, this is a very important thing to bear in mind. For instance, within an interdisciplinary approach, a HRM student will look at the consequences for personnel while an Applied Gerontology student will reflect on the question of whether the elderly really need a dancing robot.”

Initiator: Professor Ton Wilthagen 

According to Ton Wilthagen, the BRC is an event that will grow in the coming years. And that is necessary, too, the Labor Market professors argues.

“There are lots of questions where robotics are concerned. Outside the robotics sector itself, there is very little attention for the role of robots in our every-day lives. However, in numerous sectors, robots will be introduced steadily but increasingly more rapidly. Therefore it is crucial that students in all types of programs acquire practical knowledge and experience, which they, as the workforce of the future, will be able to use on the work floor. So there is added value for organizations as well. By means of the BRC, we try to organize this in an interdisciplinary way together with companies and institutions. People often have only vague notions about robots, whereas so many concrete applications are already available and are being used today. From an efficiency and financial point of view, many organizations will embrace robotics. The care sector is a case in point.”

“The dehumanization of care through the introduction of robots is a real danger. It is crucial that we continue to critically monitor these developments and make the right decisions. In order to properly do so, a multidisciplinary approach is required. It is not only technicians who should be working on robots. Lawyers, ethicists, and social scientists should also reflect on this and work together with developers from an early stage.”

Exchanging knowledge, skills, and character

With many contemporary and future challenges in the field of robotics in society, it makes sense to join forces. The BRC brings together various disciplines, allowing people to exchange insights that are new to others and to also gain valuable experience with contemporary robotics applications. Adding value by working together and at the same time bringing robotics within the reach of students: that is where the Brabant Robot Challenge demonstrates its added value.