Our Automated Urban Future

The city of the future will be automated, and here sooner than you might think

Planning and running a city is a complicated business. Maintaining infrastructure, providing public services, and managing traffic are just some of the things city authorities have to deal with, or else face the wrath of angry businesses and residents… Staying on top of this complex web of interconnected issues means processing of a lot of information, and deploying workforces with a large variety of skills. Increasingly, city leaders are turning to technology to make this process easier.

Connected, efficient, profitable

So what exactly is an automated city? The concept is not highly defined, and could therefore encompass everything from digitising civic services like benefits and elections, to introducing robot employees. Fundamentally however, the automated city does have some concrete aims. It seeks to encourage the smooth flow of people and data, managing city services to reduce queues, improve efficiency and maximise profits for businesses.

What could this practically entail? By analysing big data to identify action points, city officials could reduce waiting times at healthcare centres, improve pollution levels, and cut down on congestion to ensure that people and goods reach their destinations on time. Dependable infrastructures are key to business operations, enabling companies to connect easily with clients and partners, facilitating the smooth delivery of services and making business more efficient – and profitable.

The availability of data in the automated city will also have real advantages to businesses, in the form of services such as geotargeting – the practice of identifying potential customers based on their location. Key to this – and other kinds of digital marketing – will be securing fast and free internet for citizens. The automated city will be connected, as is increasingly being seen in the free WiFi of several European towns. Securing internet connectivity is an example of how cities will be structured to facilitate our modern levels of consumption. Urban planning and new technologies will be the answer to the well managed cities of the future.

The rise of the robots

In addition to other methods of automation, many governments are beginning to view robots as the solution to a better urban future. Robots can be used to improve life in our cities in limitless ways, offering benefits in the form of autonomous cars, service robots in shops and supermarkets, automated warehouses, vertical farms, and delivery drones. These possibilities not only offer new business opportunities for tech startups, but can also assist established companies looking to innovate in order to remain competitive in the modern world.

In fact, robots are already employed in public facing roles in several cities. In 2017, Dubai put its first robot police officer to work, tasking it with patrolling the city’s malls and tourist attractions. In Singapore, robots have been trialled in pre schools to improve children’s social skills. They have also been installed in several hotels in the city state to deliver items to guests and provide automated concierge services.

With labour shortages and pressure on public services affecting traditional business models, robots such as these are an ideal solution to overstretched staff and limited funds in both the public and private sectors. However, technical glitches and limits to the autonomy of current models are boundaries to their widespread adoption. Whilst the robots in cities today certainly benefit from a novelty factor, we will have to wait a few years before they truly revolutionise our urban lives.

Realising the robot revolution

One city which has always striven for a robot reality is Tokyo. Having spent decades at the forefront of technological innovation, Japan is now preparing to host the next summer Olympics, and is seizing this opportunity to display its technological prowess to the world. As part of its commitment to a robotic future, the Japanese government formed the Robot Revolution Realisation Council in 2014. This aims to ‘make Japan the world’s most advanced robot showcase’, and ‘achieve a society in which robots are utilised more than anywhere in the world.’

The drive to integrate robots into private business, industry, and people’s everyday lives will be exemplified by services at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Robot advisors will be stationed at busy locations around the city, offering tourists help with issues such as translation and directions. What’s more, the city hopes to offer autonomous transportation to its visitors, in the form of self driving taxis, buses and private vehicles. This aspiration began to take shape in 2016, when automotive companies started making 3D maps of the country’s roads. Autonomous transport is perhaps the most disruptive feature of Tokyo’s Olympic preparation, which, if realised, would signal a landmark moment in the adoption of autonomous vehicles. A robot revolution, indeed.

How could automation benefit your local city? Will civic authorities move with the times and strive for an automated future? Should they be incentivised to do so? Share your thoughts and ideas.

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