The Italian Almanac

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Robots Gathering

Robots from around the world will gather in Rome next week for the world's biggest conference on the state of the robotic art. Robots able to man and repair spaceships, robot surgeons, robots for helping out around the home and microrobots to explore the human body are among the novelties to be unveiled at Rome University. The International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), now in its 20th year, will also focus on interaction between humans and robots, including the psychological impact of a world teeming with artificial helpers.

The main theme of this year's conference is Robot Ubiquity, the notion that in the near future humans will share the planet with robots performing tasks ranging from the menial to the complex. Organisers say robots will soon become as common as mobile phones, personal computers, I-pods and other technological features of modern living. Given the "strong synergy" already existing between telecommunications, electronics and robotics research, they say, the "age of walking, talking personal robots is not too far away".

More than 1,800 scientific papers will be presented at the conference while at least 1,200 participants are expected from all over the world - ranging from experts and industrialists to students and garage-robot freaks. "For 20 years ICRA has been the main forum for all those who are interested in the applications of robots as well as their economic, social and cultural implications," organisers say. Another major topic at the conference will be the need for a closer working relationship between research and industry.

At the end of the conference, ICRA will present its annual award to the world's Top Robot Entrepreneur. ICRA runs at Rome University's Engineering School at San Pietro in Vincoli from April 10 to 14.