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IEEE SSIT Lecture | Anticipating Urban Robotics by Prof Clinton J Andrews

IEEE UK and Ireland SSIT Chapter and SSIT IST-Africa SIGHT are cooperating to organise this SSIT Lecture as a joint webinar.

IEEE and SSIT Members as well as non-IEEE Members are invited to register and participate. IEEE Members should include their IEEE membership number when registering.

This joint meeting will take place online. Registered participants will be provided with the link prior to the event.


According to one definition, “a robot is an autonomous machine capable of sensing its environment, carrying out computations to make decisions, and performing actions in the real world.” Such a definition would include many urban systems that are not normally associated with robotics, such as lighting and thermal comfort systems in smart buildings and sensor-driven traffic signals on roads.

The lines are blurring between autonomous machines and the increasingly intelligent environments in which they are embedded. Automotive engineers have developed standard definitions for levels of automation in autonomous vehicles from “full human control” to “fully autonomous control;” but the third locus of control—the intelligent environment—is less frequently considered to be part of the story.

Practical engineering concerns regarding which computing to do at the edge (in the robot) or centrally (in the environment) place very real constraints on the feasible degree of autonomy for a given robotic functionality. Ethical concerns regarding the preservation of human autonomy in smart environments that also host robots make this an important topic for humanity’s urban future. How does the responsibility of the designer change when the human is inside the robot (as in a building or vehicle) compared to when the human is located outside and perhaps adjacent to it? What urban governance structures are needed to preserve human dignity and an ability to make choices in a city with ubiquitous automation? Who is responsible when intelligent urban systems fail or get hacked? Which aspects of ubiquitous urban intelligence should be regarded as infrastructural versus open to marketplace competition or factional conflict?

This presentation unpacks the contradictions in urban robotics, suggests how to avoid doing harm to humans, and encourages critical discussion about which version of the intelligent urban future we are building.


Clinton J Andrews is a professor, Centre Director, and the Associate Dean for research at the E.J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University.

He was educated at Brown and MIT in engineering and planning, and worked previously in the private sector and at Princeton University. He teaches public informatics and planning courses, and performs research on how people use the built environment. His work addresses smarter cities, energy and climate change.

He publishes both scholarly and popular articles and his books include Humble Analysis: The Practice of Joint Fact-finding, Regulating Regional Power Systems, and Industrial Ecology and Global Change. At Rutgers, Andrews is co-leading a new multidisciplinary graduate program on socially cognizant robotics. He recently completed service as co-editor of the Journal of Planning Education and Research, and he remains a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a licensed Professional Engineer. Andrews is a Fellow of AAAS, a winner of IEEE’s 3rd Millenium Medal, and current president of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology.

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