Urban robotic experimentation: San Francisco, Tokyo and Dubai

Aidan H. While*, Simon Marvin, Mateja Kovacic

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence and automation have the potential to transform cities and urban social life. However, robotic restructuring of the city is complicated and contested. Technology is still evolving, robotic infrastructure is expensive and there are technical, trust and safety challenges in bringing robots into dynamic urban environments alongside humans. This article examines the nascent field of ‘urban robotics’ in three emblematic yet diverse national-urban contexts that are leading centres for urban robotic experimentation. Focusing on the experimental application of autonomous social robots, the article explores: (i) the rationale for urban robotic experiments and the interests involved, and (ii) the challenges and outcomes of creating meaningful urban spaces for robotic experimentation. The article makes a distinctive contribution to urban research by illuminating a potentially far-reaching but under-researched area of urban policy. It provides a conceptual framework for mapping and understanding the highly contingent, spatially uneven and socially selective processes of robotic urban experimentation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)769-786
Number of pages18
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number4
Early online date17 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • automation
  • experiments
  • regulation
  • robots
  • urban


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