Saturday, 8 October 2016

Urban Robotics

From Oct 18-21, 2016, I will be at the Robophilosophy conference in Aarhus (Denmark). I will be part of a workshop on "Responsible Robotics" (co-organized by the Foundation of Responsible Robotics and the 4TU.Ethics Task Force Robotics). I have been working on robotics for a while now. And actually the interplay between robots and the build environment has already been a topic of stimulating discussion during my work on the ETHICBOTS project. To put it a bit point, the question was: Should we build cities for robots or humans? Especially in the context of ETHICBOTS, our basic idea was, that anytime soon robots will leave the factories and we might start to interact with them on a more casual everyday base. Service robots may come to your mind. And, indeed, it was a care giving robot that gave me the idea that we have to think about the interplay between robots and the build environment. The care giving robot in case was meant to enable elderly people to live a more independent life and stay at their homes. The problem: The robot had wheels. Hence, while the robot was marketed as a mobility aid, he was not capable to walk stairs. - This might be a fairly simple and straight forward example, but to me it demonstrates the need to think about the general interplay between the build environment and robots. My interest in robots designed for the urban context, was renewed when I learned about the MX3D bridge. According to the company's web site, this is what the project aims for:
We are going to 3D print a fully functional, intricate steel bridge over water in the center of Amsterdam to showcase our revolutionary technology. MX3D equips industrial multi-axis robots with 3D tools and develops the software to control them. This allows us to 3D print strong, complex and gracious structures out of sustainable material – from large bridges to small parts. We research and develop groundbreaking, cost-effective robotic technology with which we can 3D print beautiful, functional objects in almost any form.
Indeed, it looks like Amsterdam seems to attract robots. I am already curious how the Roboat will change our ideas of urban transportation systems. Of course, not everything is bright and shiny. For example, we may need to discuss, if self-driving cars (robots, by my standards) might actually contribute to urban sprawl. Hence, I think it's about time to start a discussion on the interplay of robotics and cities. You will find the abstract for my talk here. If you have any suggestions about any project, that makes use of robots in an urban context, please me know. And I would be happy to learn, that I am not the only one working on this.

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