Industrial automation in the Basque Country: Opportunities and challenges ahead

4 November 2021
Artificial Intelligence and industrial automation in the Basque Country: Opportunities and challenges ahead
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Recent breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques have triggered great developments into automation of routinary activities within industry. These achievements have made possible some disruptive innovations while at the same time, these have started to spark automation anxieties and concerns about the future of work and massive unemployment and deskilling.

To face these concerns, it is necessary to gather industry representatives, citizens, and stakeholders to discuss, think and prototype solutions that can put citizens at the centre of technological developments.

In order to do so, TECNALIA as the leader of this case study, has conducted a mapping of the innovation ecosystem in the Basque Country region, including considerations on the context, barriers and opportunities for the introduction of new technologies, key actors, networks, and relevant actions and interactions.

  • This mapping exercise has contributed to reveal several interesting aspects of the industrial automation ecosystem in the Basque Country. We found a vibrant regional ecosystem composed by various universities, different Research and Technological Centres (RTOs), dedicated clusters, private companies and public companies that articulate the industrial policy that steams from the Basque Government. It is noteworthy the recent creation of a sub-cluster dedicated to AI with the name of “AI Basque”.
  • The cluster comprises more than 40 companies, 3 RTOs, HITZ Basque Country public university research group (UPV) and the ICT cluster GAIA. Most of the companies that can be found in “AI Basque” are mainly SMEs consolidated in other sectors, especially into industry, that look for their specialization around AI whilst diversifying their business models. In addition, as part of this cluster, there is a group composed by recent startups that are much more focused on AI.

Regarding the different techniques that comprise AI, machine learning (ML) applications together with computer vision technologies are the most widely used to detect failures in production. Also, the hybridization of AI techniques will have tremendous impacts for speeding up decision-making processes. In this regard online learning, real time learning, and edge computing will be important techniques of AI when dealing with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and favoring real-time decision-making.

The Basque industry is slowly but increasingly moving towards the incorporation of AI in its manufacturing industry. The expected impacts seem to be clearly positive as it can facilitate processes to be more efficient and faster whilst increasing the quality of final products and avoiding common failures.

However, the manufacturing sector is a traditional sector with constant needs regarding technological updating and digitalization. This implies a lack of data or bad quality data available, which might hinder the implementation of AI in the regional manufacturing sector. There are also other concerns related to the ownership of data and many companies are reluctant to share their production data, machine status (except for remote maintenance), manufacturing process data, etc.

Successful societal engagement processes

As mentioned before, the Basque Country is a forerunner in technological innovation and its industry is composed by a rich regional ecosystem of actors, where AI is particularly gaining momentum in the last years. In contrast, the imaginaries coexisting in society are characterized by distrust towards national and regional politicians, which could affect the levels of trust of society in industry and technology as well. Moreover, there is a lack of co-creation and social innovation activities in the industry that demands trust and common understanding between citizens and technologists to conduct successful societal engagement processes.

The emergence of a research ecosystem around AI in the Basque Country will entail significant transformations in the structure and composition of the industrial structure of the region. These transformations will demand an active role of the regional government and different stakeholders for coordinated actions and measures directed to counteract the negative economic externalities that digitalization of industry will bring to the territory.

Factors such as deskilling and reskilling, unemployment, workplace surveillance, automated decision making, algorithmic accountability and transparency will be at the very heart of these transformations.

In this sense, there is a great opportunity to promote societal engagement around AI, industry and society. This societal engagement can actively contribute to the facilitation of this transition to an Industry 4.0 that can take into account societal needs and expectations for promoting decent and meaningful work conditions in the forthcoming digital industry in the Basque Country.

Izaskun Jimenez Iturriza


Izaskun Jimenez Iturriza

She been working as a researcher at the Innovation Strategies Division, TECNALIA Research & Innovation since 2010. She is gradutated in Law (Basque Country Univ., Spain, 1998). With 8 years of experience in research, she have worked in a wide range of research projects in subjects related to innovation research. At her current work, she work as a researcher at Policies for Innovation and Technology (POINT) area.

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Author:Izaskun Jimenez Iturriza
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