An opportunity for robots to help urban planners in European cities
AUTHOR: Bern Grush, URF Executive Director
I recently had a conversation with an urban planner from Lisbon, shortly after I returned from several days visiting the oldest parts of her city. I remarked that the old town had streets with very narrow and often absent sidewalks and suggested that mobile robots would be unsuitable in such a place.
Her reply was not something I had considered. “We’d like to remove motor vehicles from that part of the city, and we are thinking about using robots for many of the tasks that still must be done.”
Public-area mobile robots (PMRs) for delivery, security patrols, and maintenance tasks provide a special opportunity for older parts of cities that have narrow, 17th and 18th century streets and passageways inappropriate for larger maintenance, patrol or delivery vehicles. Whether used as cooperative assistants for maintenance or cleaning activities, teleoperated food carts for delivery activities, or security systems on wheels for patrol activities, small automated vehicles — human-scaled in terms of weight and travel speed — are ideal for preserving older, often historical, urban areas.
BENEFITS of PMRs
Appropriately-sized PMRs offer many benefits for city areas with narrow streets that were laid out long before the automobile was invented:
1. Delivery and logistics for e-commerce continues to demand increasing efficiency. Small robots can handle last-mile deliveries on these older streetscapes. Quieter, cleaner, smaller, they can navigate narrow streets, avoid traffic congestion and reduce delivery times.
2. Information kiosks can become mobile, interactive, and tourist-friendly as information kiosks or interactive guides, especially in high-traffic tourist areas. Providing directions, historical information, and other relevant details about landmarks, museums, or cultural sites, such robots can offer a personalized and interactive experience, enhancing tourism and making it easier for visitors to enjoy their visit.
3. Maintenance of infrastructure in older cities can be made more complex due to the limited accessibility of narrow streets. Small robots can be designed to perform routine maintenance tasks such as sweeping, inspecting minor infrastructure issues, cleaning gutters, etc. Their size may allow them to reach areas that may be difficult for larger vehicles.
4. Security cameras and sensors mounted on small robots can serve as efficient surveillance bots. Patrolling narrow streets, they can navigate more easily through tight spaces and around obstacles, providing enhanced security coverage that might be challenging for larger vehicles or human patrols.
5. Waste collection can be challenging on narrow streets. Small robots can be designed to gather waste bins to local collection points. Cities can improve the efficiency of waste pickup, reduce traffic congestion and noise while maintaining clean pedestrian areas in crowded urban areas.
Overall, public area mobile robots can play a significant role in improving security, maintenance, delivery, and information services in any city. This can be a special bonus for older cities with narrow streets. Their compact size and navigation ability makes them versatile tools for various urban tasks, enhancing the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.
Other Ideas? Questions? Concerns?
Please reach out to us at the Urban Robotics Foundation if you have any other ideas for how public-area mobile robots can help provide municipal services, or if you have questions or concerns about the comments above. We are creating a Municipal Guide to PMRs to help stakeholders better understand all the dimensions involved in deploying public-area mobile robots. We are eager to learn from your ideas, case studies, successes and challenges from early deployment of this technology.