Innovation in Smart Cities of the future - Part V, New Technologies

Pocket robots may become ubiquitous and provide a novel way for personal interaction in smart cities. Credit: TU Delft

Ethical issues facing a self driving car. What should the car do in these three situations? Credit: Jean-François Bonnefon, Azim Shariff, Iyad Rahwan

Robotics is now strongly entrenched in manufacturing and it is likely to enter into the Smart Cities area in various capacity. 
Self driving cars and autonomous public buses are clear examples of robots applied to transportation. Many cities already have autonomous metro systems. Masdar is experimenting with (a very limited) shared autonomous cars.

In the next decade we can expect a growing number of vehicles with progressively increased communications capability with other vehicles and with road infrastructures. They will becoming more and more like robots and the transitions is going to be smooth and spread over a decade at least so that in the end we won’t probably realize the time when the shift from human driven to self driving cars occurred.

Slowly, but surely, the traffic patterns in our cities will impact, in real time, the structure of driving, one way streets may change their direction, two ways streets may become one way to just absorb a traffic spike….

It is not going to be plain sailing at all. As we will be transferring out "will" to a robotic car, who will be held responsible for decisions taken by the car that might result in damage (to people or goods)? 

It actually gets more complicated and fuzzy. Imagine a self driving car "realising" that the only way to avoid killing a pedestrian that has jumped out of a sidewalk is to swerve the car leading to it crashing on a wall with possible harm to its passengers. What should the car do? Should the software decide based on the number of pedestrians that might be harmed if the car just breaks vs the number of passengers of the car that might be harmed if the car swerves to avoid the pedestrian?  Will the owner of the car have a saying on this kind of decision when she will buy the car? Who will be deciding on the ethical behaviour of a robot?

A new class of robots, the drones, will grow in importance in the smart cities environment, changing the way cities are monitored and also the delivery chains.

Again, this won’t happen tomorrow, nor at any specific date in the future. It will simply happen over time.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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