22 Jul 2024


EU AI and machinery plans ‘will disrupt manufacturing’

Østergaard: EC plans will hold back European robotics innovation

Four organisations representing the robotics and automation industry have attacked the European Commission’s plans to place limitations on AI (artificial intelligence) and to update its machinery regulations, warning the proposed changes would disrupt manufacturing, cause severe damage to small businesses and robotics companies, and stifle innovation.

The organisations – the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the German-based VDMA Robotics + Automation Association, EUnited Robotics and REInvest Robotics – are calling on European policymakers “urgently” to revisit and amend their proposals.

While all four organisations say they embrace the European Commission’s vision to maintain safety, protect human rights and create a harmonised framework for artificial intelligence and robotics, they are worried that the proposed regulations, as currently drafted, would:
• slow technological innovation across Europe, because of requirements for mandatory third-party certification;
• hinder the adoption of AI and put European companies – especially SMEs and start-ups – at a competitive disadvantage globally;
• risk disruption to regional supply chains, manufacturing and logistics operations; and
• make compliance with regulation worldwide more complex and burdensome.

“The International Federation of Robotics calls on European policymakers to amend both drafts to balance the protection of citizens with the market’s need to adopt new technologies and ensure a level-playing field for companies,” says IFR general secretary, Dr Susanne Bieller. “This is not purely a European issue, as the proposed regulations will severely impact all companies bringing robots to the European market. In the long run, the new regulations will be to the disadvantage of European companies, especially SMEs and start-ups.”

“The EU Commission’s proposals include burdensome regulations of so-called ‘high-risk AI’ and ‘high-risk machinery’,” adds Patrick Schwarzkopf, managing director of the VDMA Robotics + Automation and director of EUnited Robotics. “They include the introduction of extensive mandatory third-party certification requirements, which will discourage the use of AI and slow down innovation across Europe.”

Dr Esben Hallundbæk Østergaard, founder of Universal Robots, and currently CEO of REInvest Robotics, which invests in start-ups that use robotics to solve real-world problems, warns that the proposed legislation “will hold back European robotics innovation. This is particularly concerning given robotics is the one emerging tech segment where Europe still has an edge globally. Locally, the legislation will negatively affect thousands of small businesses, factories, and manufacturers that rely on robotics and AI to automate critical operations and overcome labour shortages.”

Amendments that Østergaard would like to see to the proposed regulations include:
• limiting the scope of the AI Act to essential human rights risks;
• relying on manufacturers’ self-declaration of conformity in both the AI Act and Regulation on Machinery Products;
• increasing enforcement and governance of the existing approach of the machinery directive; and
• working to create a global framework that increases safety and ethics while maintaining a level playing field.

A recent draft report on the Regulation on Machinery products published by the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) points in this direction by proposing to uphold the principle of self-declaration.

“The approach of the current machinery directive is sufficient,” says Østergaard. “The problem is with governance. We recommend focusing on ensuring that products on the market actually comply with the current EU law, not creating new regulations.”

IFR:  Twitter  LinkedIn

VDMA:  Twitter  LinkedIn  Facebook

EUnited Robotics:  Twitter

REInvest RoboticsTwitter  LinkedIn  Facebook