According to the Britannica Encyclopaedia, Automation refers to the “application of machines to tasks once performed by human beings or, increasingly, to tasks that would otherwise be impossible” (Groover, 2020). Automation has touched almost all facets of our life. In today’s modern world, it has developed to the extent that it has spawned new technologies, like Robotics, the Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence, that have earned recognition and status of their own. However, the Automated City concept has been around since the 1980s. The reality is that our cities have evolved as complex entities far beyond our imagination and control. Environmental pollution, traffic congestion, and rising consumerism necessitate the use of robotic solutions.

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Automation Word Cloud Illustration_©Wallmonkeys, Amazon.com, Inc.
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Role of Automation in IoT_©Varun Kathuria

Automation in Everyday Life

It is rightly said, “Change begins at home!” Automation is a modern-day wonder that has made our daily lives considerably more effortless than before. With sensors, face detection, and voice recognition at our disposal, we can operate practically everything without even lifting our finger, whether it is sweeping, mopping, reading the news while brushing teeth, checking weather updates, painting a room, or grabbing a pair of clothes from an overhead closet. Furthermore, the ‘customization’ of home automation products serves as the icing on the cake!

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Mi Robot Vacuum Mop P with LDS Laser Navigation System_©Xiaomi
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SMART Mirror_©Seura
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Scribit, a writing robot, uses the wall surface as a blank canvas for artistic expressions_©Gary di Silvio, Giacomo Mangia
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A robotic overhead furniture system_©Bumblebee Spaces
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Automation in Residential Architecture_©Crabtree, Havells India Ltd.

Automation in the Hospitality Sector

The sole reason behind automation is to eliminate human error and negligence. However, we must bear in mind that it has a dark side as well. If automation continues unabated, humanoids will soon take over humanity, and humans will run out of jobs. Although this may sound like a sci-fi movie trailer, the seed has already been planted. For instance, the ‘Henn na Hotel’ in Nagasaki, Japan, is way ahead of its time, with robots serving guests and carrying luggage up to their rooms.

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For more details, please visit: https://www.h-n-h.jp/en/

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Henn na Hotel front desk robot check-in, Nagasaki, Japan_©Huisten Bosch
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Henn na Hotel porter robot, Nagasaki, Japan_©Huisten Bosch

Urban Transportation and the Rise of ‘Air’ Mobility

In the words of Moshe Y. Vardi, Professor of Computer Science at Rice University, “Machines could take 50% of jobs in the next 30 years” (Freeformers, 2017). Automated Vehicles (AVs) are on their way to revolutionizing our travel behaviour, conquering both the roads and the skies. Driverless shuttles that park themselves and drones that get products to customers within the blink of an eye will soon drive the physical world. In the long run, this might even help minimize on- and off-street parking spaces, promote urban sprawl and longer commutes, provide accessibility to people with restricted transportation options, and aid in better road space management.

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Autonomous Shuttle Concept, CES 2019_©Bosch
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Volocity, an autonomous Air Taxi_©Volocopter GmbH
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Autonomous Prime Air Delivery_©Amazon.com, Inc.

‘Living’ Laboratory and the Built Environment

Cities of the future are envisioned as ultimate ‘living’ machines. “Machines are already undertaking tasks which were unthinkable – if not unimaginable – a decade ago” (Chu, 2015), says Andy Haldane, Chief Economist for the Bank of England. In collaboration with BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, Toyota has proposed a prototype city of the future, ‘The Woven City’ in Higashi-Fuji, Japan. It envisages a new urban fabric with timber construction, hydrogen fuel, a flexible network of streets, autonomous vehicles with zero emissions, and a vibrant public realm. It intends to connect people, buildings, and vehicles through data and sensor-based AI.

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For more details, please visit: https://www.woven-city.global/

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Toyota Woven City, Japan_©BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

A paradigm shift from Automation to Autonomy

Automation has already begun to impact the way we live, work, and interact. It is re-shaping production, consumption, and logistics. We make machines to be our servants, to pursue a higher standard of living and a better way of life. Nevertheless, today, in the era of the robotic revolution, man has become a robot, a slave to machines, emotionless and devoid of human values. As automation takes over our lives and the public realm, we have become more isolated than ever. The urge to make our day-to-day activities more convenient and comfortable will, sooner or later, give birth to a fully autonomous world.

Everything from manufacturing, packaging, designing, construction, transportation to marketing will have no place for humans. In a nutshell, ‘autonomous’ machines will become an indispensable part of city dynamics to determine and shape cities. Future cities, thus, will be able to repair, organize and regenerate themselves without any human intervention. It is high time for us to explore new ways to stimulate human interaction in public spaces for our survival. The BIG day is just around the corner!

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Robots as Human Guides_©Huawei
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The Last Job on Earth_©Moth Collective, The Doen Foundation

References

[1] Chu, B., 2015. Robots put 15 million UK jobs at risk, warns Bank of England. [Online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/15-million-uk-jobs-risk-robots-warns-bank-england-a6732381.html [Accessed 1 October 2021].

[2] Freeformers, 2017. AI & Automation – What does the future hold? [Online] Available at: https://medium.com/@freeformers_uk/ai-automation-what-does-the-future-hold-b576e2b81945 [Accessed 28 September 2021].

[3] Groover, M. P., 2020. automation. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/technology/automation [Accessed 30 September 2021].

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