Could robotics be the key to transforming our cities?

How robotics is transforming our cities

Autonomous robots are entering the real world at an unprecedented pace, and are being put to work in real workplace settings, homes and labs. And more and more of them are finding themselves put to use in cities around the world.

Cities are seeing soaring population levels, and with this comes the demand to solve more problems, more quickly, and without causing residents undue hassle. Urban environments house more than half of the world’s population, and this is projected to rise to two thirds by the middle of the century. This is causing and exacerbating problems including pollution, traffic and crime, which all create demand for reliable, long-term solutions at reasonable cost.

Robots are helping to alleviate some of the problems associated with ageing populations and poorly maintained infrastructures, while helping to promote safer, more efficient transport, productive manufacturing and secure energy supplies.

For investors such as philanthropist and billionaire Tej Kohli, AI is becoming an increasingly viable investment option, with developers rapidly innovating cutting-edge inventions for use in urban areas. Kohli believes that robotics has a vast humanitarian potential that will revolutionise people’s lives, and cities are just one of the core environments where these technologies are being tested and deployed.

One example of this is the bot designed by China’s e-shopping giant Alibaba – G Plus. Customers download an app, complete a grocery order and state where they want their food delivered to. These items are then given to a driverless bot with a very sophisticated in-built navigation system, which drives to the customer, and simply requires them to enter a pin code to get their shopping.

And more functionally, there are drones that can perform remote maintenance on street lights and repair potholes and utility pipes, going where humans aren’t able to access, and for longer periods of time.

AI will also help efforts to reduce crime, with experts predicting that, by 2030, cities will likely be able to rely heavily on AI technologies to predict crime patterns through the automatic processing of CCTV and drone footage.

Another strand of AI going into cities is humanoid robots, which, it is hoped, will help support and enhance customer service and social care, such as greeting customers in stores and becoming carers in care homes for the elderly.

And probably one of the biggest changes urban populations will see to their everyday lives will be the introduction of self-driving vehicles, which experts predict will be widely adopted by 2020.

One way some of this innovation is being achieved is with urban labs, which are test zones where developers try to understand how they interact with and affect urban populations, and how to best draw on big data and implement it to connect with the Internet of Things.

However, these labs aren’t as predictable as many experts would have hoped, and so real cities around the world are increasingly becoming the new urban labs, trialling the latest developments.

Developers are aware that being a hotbed of robotic experimentation can attract investors and draw in much-needed capital to funding-starved cities. And for Tej Kohli, investments into AI are a fruitful business move too.

What is a robot?