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Urban robotics and responsible urban innovation

In this article, Michael Nagenborg explores how robotics can be integrated into the urban landscape and distinguishes two perspectives: (1) the responsible design and use of urban robots and (2) the robots as part of responsible urban innovations. Highlighting the spatial dimension of robots and the issue of integrating them in the urban environment, Nagenborg focuses on the concept of urban justice and questions the concept of smart city as well as the idea that maybe robots are not the answer to the needs of cities  


Robots are leaving factories and entering urban spaces. In this paper, I will explore how we can integrate robots of various types into the urban landscape. I will distinguish between two perspectives:

  1. the responsible design and use of urban robots and
  2. robots as part of responsible urban innovations.

The first viewpoint considers issues arising from the use of a robot in an urban environment. To develop a substantive understanding of Responsible Urban Robotics, we need to focus on normative implications of city life as the context in which in robots are being used. I will refer to the desirable qualities of city life as “cityness’ and will argue that we should design for cityness. The second approach asks how robots might be used to address challenges specific to cities.

From the perspective of RRI, this may require participatory approaches in which the needs of the stakeholders are addressed. But we may also find inspiration in the work undertaken in architecture on expanding the concept and field to ensure that architects not only provide services to the lucky few but also create useful and beautiful spaces for the many. A dialogue with architects, urban designers, and urban planners may also be needed to successfully address the spatial issues raised by the presence of robots in the city.

About the journal

Ethics and Information Technology is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to advancing the dialogue between moral philosophy and the field of information and communication technology (ICT). The journal aims to foster and promote reflection and analysis which is intended to make a constructive contribution to answering the ethical, social and political questions associated with the adoption, use, and development of ICT.

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