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Eduard Fosch-Villaronga awarded ERC Starting Grant

Eduard Fosch-Villaronga from Leiden University has been awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). This grant of 1.5m euros enables talented early-career scholars to start their own pioneer project, lead a research team, and implement their best ideas at the frontiers of their discipline.

Eduard Fosch-Villaronga

Eduard Fosch-Villaronga received the grant for his project SAFEandSOUND. With this project, Eduard aims to make healthcare robots safe and sound for society.

There is an increasing gap between the speed of policy cycles and that of technological change, he explains. ‘This gap is very noticeable in healthcare robotics, where policies are scattered and cover the issues robots entail unevenly. This disconnect results in robot developers failing to integrate essential legal considerations into their designs, user safety not always being ensured, and the development of systems that may cause harm to patients. While other sectors enjoy evidence-based policies that translate policy goals into practical guidance, these frameworks have yet to emerge for robotic technology.’

The aim of SAFEandSOUND is to connect the policy cycle with data generated in robot testing zones to support evidence-based policymaking for robot technologies. The project examines regulatory gaps for physical assistive robots like exoskeletons and social robots from different sources (literature, policy, and patient engagement), tests these issues in experimental zones, investigates how to generate policy-relevant data from such experimentation, and uses it for policy change, design requirements, and a charter for user rights. 

Eduard Fosch-Villaronga is Assistant Professor and the Director of Research at eLaw, the Center for Law and Digital Technologies at Leiden University. A legal scholar whose research advances the understanding of the legal and regulatory aspects of using and developing robot and AI technologies, mainly related to healthcare, governance, diversity, and privacy.

Opportunity to grow

Eduard Fosch-Villaronga is delighted with the grant. ‘This grant is a fantastic opportunity to grow as an academic and fight for more humane care in an increasingly mechanized society. I am grateful to the ERC for giving me the time and resources to build a team to continue working on what I believe in. But more importantly, I am grateful for the stability this gives me. And I say so because the road to get here has not always been easy. I have lived, studied, and worked in eight different countries the past nine years, jumping from temporary contracts to new positions all over Europe and the US. I guess one of the few stability points I’ve had was my line of research, which I am unsure I knew I was building.’

But there have always been people that believed in him, Eduard explains. ‘I can conduct research into law and robotics thanks to the support of many EU grants. Also, I wouldn't be here if I couldn't count on the support of the eLaw Center for Law and Digital Technologies, where both Professor Simone van der Hof and Professor Bart Custers have believed in me since day one and allowed me to flourish as an early-career scientist. With the support of the Dean of the Law School Joanne van der Leun, this grant will be yet another step in this amazing academic journey that I’ll happily conduct at Leiden Law School.’

Five researchers from Leiden University have received an ERC starting grant. Read more about the other researchers here.

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