The Urban Automation and Robotics team led by Prof Simon Marvin at the Urban Institute received the Royal Society research grant under the International Exchanges 2017 Cost Share (China) scheme. The awarded project, titled Beyond Smart Cities: A Comparative Analysis of Experimentation in Urban Automation and Robotics China/UK, will be conducted over 2 years in collaboration with the School of Architecture at the Southeast University.

Over the last decade national state priorities in China and UK have invested in organisational and technological capacity to support development of smart cities infrastructure. New systems have been developed for data platforms, urban control, predictive analytics, sensing and new urban standards for urban interoperability. Our interest is in urban experimentation that seeks to layer new forms of functionality on the existing smart infrastructure through urban automation and robotics.

In both China and the UK, the automating and robot technologies play a key role in national innovation priorities. China seeks to become world leaders in AI by 2030 while the UK has identified Robotics and Autonomous Systems as key priority in Industrial Strategy. Also, in both contexts state, research and corporate actors are developing urban experiments in robotics and automated systems. In China, this includes: autonomous buses, cars, delivery drones; automated-robotised warehouses; robot hotels; patrolling robots. In UK: autonomous buses, cars, drones; delivery robots; automated-robotised warehouses; healthcare robots.

In this project, we ask why different dimensions of urban life and infrastructure become the focus for experimentation with robots and automated systems; How different experiments are organised and what forms of systematic learning undertaken; and What are the consequences for urban life.