Page 1: Research background

Technological innovation is transforming human society and the natural environment in cities worldwide. One such innovation is the emergence of robotics and autonomous systems: intelligent machines capable of performing tasks independently, without explicit human control. Autonomous systems include drones and other automated vehicles such as self-driving cars. To ensure that future cities are sustainable for both people and nature, we must be able to foresee the ecological responses to these emerging technologies. For instance, autonomous vehicles with the ability to travel in close proximity to each other could reduce the space needed for transport infrastructure and provide opportunities to increase the extent of urban green space. On the other hand, drones could have a negative impact on birds and other flying animals. 

We would like your help with a ‘horizon scanning’ exercise that aims to identify ways in which the emergence of robotics and autonomous systems could affect urban biodiversity and/or ecosystem structure/function (i.e. the natural environment in urban areas, including animals, plants, their habitats and how they work). These could be opportunities, threats or have unknown effects.

The horizon scan will be conducted over three rounds. This first round will take less than 10 minutes and you will be asked to identify some opportunities and threats associated with the emergence of robotics and automation. In rounds two and three you will review the opportunities and threats suggested by other participants and then score the final list which will be written up as part of a scientific paper. All participants will be included in the acknowledgements (if you wish) and will receive a copy of the final paper.

This exercise is part of the ‘Self-Repairing Cities’ project, a 5-year research programme funded by EPSRC that is developing robots to monitor and repair built infrastructure autonomously, and aims to promote their widespread use.