Urban Automation

Urban automation is expanding through developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, sensors, autonomous vehicles and investment in urban control centres. This offers opportunities to support urban living, use infrastructures more efficiently and respond to turbulence. It also raises issues about trust, control and automated segregation.

The theme seeks to understand how innovations in autonomous systems and robotics shape urban life and infrastructures.

Research Questions

–    Can urban automation be understood as a distinctive socio-technical field and what are its potential urban implications?
–    How are experiments in automation and robotics shaping governance processes across different domains of urban life?
–    What forms of automated citizenship are developing and how do they shape human capabilities and experiences?
–    Is expansion in non-human decision-making creating more adaptable or centralised logics of urban control?


July 12, 2018 in Blog, Urban Automation

Three ‘living labs’ which show how autonomous robots are changing cities

This blog was written by Rachel Macrorie and originally appeared in The Conversation on 12 July 2018. Ready or not, autonomous robots are leaving laboratories to be tested in real-world contexts. With more and more people living in cities, these technologies…
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July 10, 2018 in Blog, Urban Automation

Automating the City & Urbanising Automation: Four priorities to shape the expansion of robotics and autonomous systems in our everyday lives.

Ready or not, Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) are rapidly moving outside of laboratories and factories to be tested in the real-world contexts of everyday cities around the globe.  There are significant opportunities for technologists and receptive cities to work together…
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Knowing: The KNOWledge politics of experimentING with smart urbanism: Comparative work on urban automation over 8 European cities over three years within Sheffield and with European partners (3 yrs from Sept 2016, ORA-ESRC funded).

Governance of Urban Sustainability Transitions (GUST): Advancing the role of the living lab (3 yrs from 2014, JPI Urban Europe).

Beyond Smart Cities: A Comparative Analysis of Experimentation in Urban Automation and Robotics China/UK: A 2 year Royal Society grant in collaboration with the School of Architecture at the Southeast University



July 14, 2017 in Urban Automation Event

4 September 2017 – Rise of the Automated City – Public Lecture

Date: Monday 4th September 2017 Time: 5:30pm – 7.00pm Venue: ICOSS Lecture Theatre (1st floor), Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (ICOSS), 219 Portobello, Sheffield, S1 4DP; followed by a reception in ICOSS foyer (opposite). From driverless cars, to delivery robots, digitised homes and networks of…
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September 13, 2016 in Urban Automation Event

5-6 September 2017 – Urban Automation/Automated Cities: Developing a Critical Research Agenda, International workshop

University of Sheffield and University of Amsterdam Sheffield, United Kingdom, 5-6th September 2017 Organisers: Simon Marvin, Aidan While, Rachel Macrorie, Andy Lockhart –Urban Institute, University of Sheffield. Together with colleagues from Centre for Urban Studies, University of Amsterdam. There is…
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International network of the German Academy of Spatial Research and Planning (ARL): 3 year working group (from 2016) on “Smart grids – Smart cities”.

Future Cities Catapult: Expert Advisory Group

ESRC international network (INCUT)final meeting on smart and sustainability (Sept 2016 in Sheffield)

‘Daily life, digital technologies and energy demand’ Early Career Researcher network – International 2-day workshop & webinar series led to a co-edited working paper collection, and panel session at the Beyond Balance Conference (London), as part of EPSRC network funding awarded by the Balance Network.


Estimated value in billions of global market for smart urban systems by 2020


Numbers of connected devices are forecast to grow globally from 10bn in 2014, to up to 50bn by 2020.


Number of people who voluntarily wear an electronic tracking device such as a smartphone


of admin/support services jobs and 72% of transport and storage roles at ‘high risk’ of automation.