Robotics for Society

  • ESA-STAR REFAO 1-10390
  • ActivityKick-start Activity
  • Opening date 03-06-2020
  • Closing date 15-07-2020


Robots are used in multiple areas, especially where they can alleviate strenuous tasks or complete missions that are dangerous for a human to undertake. Recent advances in robotics and AI are revolutionising business, society and our personal lives. 

Apart from being precise and consistent, robots can work in any environment, adding to their flexibility. Robots eliminate dangerous jobs for humans because they are capable of working in hazardous environments. They can handle lifting heavy loads, toxic substances and repetitive tasks. This has helped companies to prevent many accidents, also saving time and money. In the medical field robots are used for intricate surgeries such as prostate cancer surgery. Robots are able to reach and fit where human hands cannot, allowing greater accuracy. Robotic benefits in the medical field can be less invasive procedures and reduce pain for the patient when recovering. 

This Kick-Start activity aims to stimulate the development of robotic applications underpinned by space technologies into a wide variety of sectors such as extreme environments, agriculture, infrastructure monitoring, transport, social care and soft robotics. Also, due to the current pandemic outbreak, robotic technology may provide additional creative solutions to tackle this unprecedented situation.

Robotics and AI augment and amplify human potential, increase productivity and are moving from simple reasoning towards human-like cognitive abilities.

Space assets and satellite technology can offer added value to the robotics sector and increase its capabilities in a number of ways. 


  • Robotics for extreme environments. Our planet is getting increasingly vulnerable due to both natural and manmade disasters. Such events are unavoidable due to the increasingly connected world via modern transport and faster movement of people. It is of vital importance to rapidly identify how we can prevent disasters and get help to victims during the initial hours, where immediate relief can save lives. The development of robotic technology in extreme environments, such as for nuclear inspection and decommissioning, offshore energy and maintenance, space exploration and deep mining, has received considerable attention in recent years.
  • Robotics for agriculture. The United Nations estimates that the world population will reach 10 billion by 2050; this will cause demand for agricultural products to rise by over 30%. The magnitude of the challenge is exacerbated by the availability (or lack thereof) of workforce and natural resources; this leaves scientific and technological advances (e.g. agricultural robots) as the only means to fuel a third agricultural revolution. Agricultural robots, underpinned by GNSS, SatEO and Satcom technologies, are poised to be at the centre of the third agricultural revolution; not by displacing farmers, but by increasing the farmer’s added value while maximising yield and optimising the use of natural resources.
  • Robotics for infrastructure monitoring. Over the last several decades, substantial amounts of sensors and sensing systems have been developed to monitor and assess the condition of structures. Structural health monitoring (SHM) is an essential component in civil engineering for safety and integrity of civil structures such as buildings, bridges, power plants, off-shore structures and tunnels. State-of-the-art sensing, automation and robotic technologies can greatly facilitate construction automation of infrastructure systems. Robots specialised for SHM applications have only recently been developed and have unique locomotion systems to provide mobility in the structures to be inspected.
  • Robotics in the transport sector. Robotics are expanding the transport and logistics industry. Flanked by radio transmitters, vision cameras, magnetometers, LiDAR, lasers, equipped with digital maps, navigation systems and fitted sensors to identify obstacles, robots can drive independently to a destination and calculate their exact position and route. With the help of sensors, they can identify critical situations and can respond accordingly, sharing the route with people and other vehicles. Automating transport could boost safety, reliability and efficiency. While demand will drop for drivers and pilots, new roles in control and management will open up. However, for the full impact, infrastructure, regulations and attitudes will need to shift. From self-driving cars, to robot buses already being trialled on European streets to drones set to create a whole new transport network in cities, companies are already investing to change the face of private and commercial travel.
  • Robotics for social care. There are numerous successful tech innovations happening at the frontline of social care, but the current underutilisation of both medicinal and digital technology means that there is real opportunity to unleash a new wave of innovation that could have a revolutionary impact on how care is delivered, and how patients interact with professionals to manage their own health and care. Robots and autonomous systems, together with AI, connected data and digital infrastructure can have the potential to revolutionise the way in which social and medical care is delivered, for the elderly and disabled people.
  • Soft robotics. Soft robotics are inspired by animals like worms, starfish or snails, or animal body parts like elephant trunks, octopus arms or mammalian limbs. Soft robots are characterized by being compliant thanks to elastic and soft materials like rubber or electroactive polymers used in their bodies. This softness brings some advantages and disadvantages compared to hard robotics. Soft robots offer dexterity, larger variability of movements, better usability in otherwise inaccessible places and higher safety. On the other hand, soft robots are harder to control because of virtually infinite number of degrees of freedom their bodies have. There are several types of soft robots, as well a variety of domains where they find applications which present a strong commercial potential, as example: robotic muscles, climbing, wearable, prosthetic and edible robots.


New technologies like sensor miniaturisation, augmented reality and big data machine learning, in combination with input data collection from satellites and integration of space technologies, promise to add value across the various domains related to robotics.

Earth Observation (EO)  

EO satellite imagery can be used to provide maps to evaluate the conditions on the ground. Additionally, EO technology can provide meteorological information, key data for monitoring and forecasting air pollution, CO2 emissions, information about crop health, the build environment, burnt structures, etc. to be integrated with other data sources for the above described applications. 

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) 

GNSS systems provide precise positioning and guidance. GNSS data can support trace and tracking application and geo-tagging data collection. Generally, both remotely operated and truly autonomous underwater vehicles are positioned by using a combination of inertial techniques (e.g. gyros) and sonar. However, two techniques which (indirectly) utilise GNSS techniques to position underwater vehicles are also available - periodically bringing the vehicle to the surface and positioning it in a ‘traditional’ GPS mode (using satellite signals); or positioning surface sensors using GPS and using these, in turn, to position underwater vehicles using acoustic (sonar) measurements.

Satellite Communications (Satcom) 

Offer reliable connectivity in places with insufficient terrestrial cellular broadband coverage, especially in the case of extreme/ remote environments. They can therefore provide robust communication links to control and command the robots as well as to rely data from them. In agriculture for example the concept of the ‘connected farm’ relies on ubiquitous connectivity to support the integration of different agricultural activities and systems, representing an advanced application of satellite communications in agriculture. Also, satcom provides data, video and voice communications with aircraft, helicopters, ground vehicles and maritime vessels on border patrol.

Human Spaceflight and robotics exploration

Human spaceflight and robotics exploration will see many changes in the 2020s with overall new paradigms, such as commercial crews and payload transportation. Robotic capabilities will continue to be fundamental for Low earth Orbit, Moon and Mars Exploration, whether autonomous, tele-operated or human collaborative. Technologies and operational capabilities developed over the last decades, e.g. for the International Space Station, rover control on Mars, haptics tele-manipulated systems on the Moon, deep-learning based geological characterization and target detection, vision-based localization and autonomous navigation or in-situ prospecting and resource utilization are usually based on terrestrial capabilities pushed to their limits in the space environment.  Such technologies can make their way back to Earth or inspire new ones,  for new applications, having benefitted from unique uses cases and test conditions.


Kick-Start activities elaborate the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Human Space Flight Technology). This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme ‘Robotics for Society’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled robotic applications and services.   


1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on ESA-STAR Registration (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’)

2. Download the official tender documentation (Invitation to Tender) and create a ‘Bidder Restricted Area’ via EMITS from June 3rd, 2020.

3. Write your proposal and obtain a Letter of Support from your National Delegation, if needed (see Authorisation of Funding section below).

4. Submit your proposal via ESA-STAR Tendering by July 15th, 2020 13:00hr CEST.


ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to perform Kick-Start activities to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

Applicants must inform the National Delegation of the country they are residing in to obtain a letter of authorisation allowing the funding of the proposed activity. Contact details of each national delegate can be found here

Currently, Germany, Luxembourg, and Norway have pre-approved funding for this kick-start activity. Switzerland and the UK are not supporting Kick-Start activities. Applications from any other Member State will require a letter of approval from their National Delegation.

Kick-Start activities are funded at: 

  • 80% by the European Space Agency for a maximum of €64K per contract for SMEs* 
  • 75% by the European Space Agency for a maximum of €60K per contract for non-SMEs
    *SMEs, or ‘Small and Medium enterprises’, are defined here: EU recommendation 2003/361.


Webinars are scheduled for the following dates in May and we will be also hosting an invited speaker from Oxford Robotics Institute of the University of Oxford.

  • 11/05/2020, 15:00 CEST
  • 26/05/2020, 15:00 CEST