Smart Cities Robotic Challenge puts machines through daily tests to get on elevators and deliver food


More cities have adopted drones, but researchers are finding ways for robots to take on tedious and dangerous tasks as well.

A grocery store food delivery robot crosses a street in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, DC on April 9, 2020 en route for a delivery.

Image: Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm / AFP

Robot dancing is fun, but there are more practical tasks that these nimble and intelligent machines can take on. A competition this fall in Bologna, Italy will test skills such as interacting with humans, delivering food and responding to emergencies.

As part of the European Robotics League, SciRoc is hosting the ERL Smart Cities Robotics Challenge. The 2021 challenge is scheduled from September 6 to 11. Organizers say the competition will be socially distanced and that they plan to face additional travel restrictions.

Ten teams from five countries participated in the first ERL Smart Cities Robotics Challenge in 2019. The competition took place at a shopping center in Milton Keynes, UK, where robots delivered coffee orders, responded to an emergency and interacted with humans as they moved from floor to floor. via an elevator.

Diego Varela, COO at Kiwibot, predicts that the coexistence of humans and robots will be essential for the future of smarter cities. Varela said he sees robots taking over mundane and repetitive tasks.

“Obviously, progress and technological advancement always have frictions and detractors, but any tool that increases human capacities will eventually be accepted,” he said.

Alison Brooks, IDC’s vice president of research for global public safety, said the pandemic illustrated how robots and drones can take on risky tasks for humans. This includes checking documentation and inspecting city infrastructure, such as water systems.

“We are seeing versatile applications for robots and drones,” Brooks said.

SEE: How robots can help modernize the restaurant industry (TechRepublic)

Kiwibot works with cities, agencies, and businesses to deliver food and other goods. Varela said companies could increase the number of deliveries made if the robots endure the last mile.

“Customers take about seven minutes to get to the door to pick up an order, which is 21 minutes per hour,” he said. “Considering that a delivery partner makes a maximum of three deliveries per hour, a Kiwibot could help a delivery partner make 33% more money per hour. ”

Brooks said she has seen significant uptake of drones among municipalities, but it is still early days for robots and smart city projects.

“Cities are starting to wonder where this might be appropriate and where it might be inappropriate,” she said.

In the research paper “Robot-city interaction: mapping the research landscape: an investigation of the interactions between robots and modern citiesThe authors define robots as machines that could “live, interact with and benefit from an urban ecosystem.” This includes agents with sensing abilities and a certain level of autonomy. The researchers identified six RCI growth areas for cities:

  1. Help for citizens
  2. Commitment of public space
  3. Mobility in dynamic urban environments
  4. Autonomous urban transport
  5. Urban security
  6. Urban maintenance

It’s easy to understand how robots and drones can be force multipliers for police and maintenance workers, but cities must anticipate to avoid a technologyBrooks said.

“Cities need to have policies in place regarding the acceptable use that precedes the purchase of technology,” she said. “Otherwise, people are very suspicious of deploying things they don’t understand.”

Brooks cited the Chula Vista Police Department as a good example to follow in setting an acceptable use policy before deploying drones. The department has started test the technology and meet with community groups three years before launch a first responder program that uses drones to assess a situation before officers arrive.

“There is tightly scripted language around the misuse of technology, which is just as important given the historical misapplication of these technologies that we need to avoid now,” she said.

Adopt a standard data specification

Data transparency is another important part of the political component of the deployment of robots and drones, especially when it comes to mobility. When autonomous vehicles share roads with humans and other vehicles, city managers need to be able to monitor and track these vehicles. A new way of sharing information and implementing security policies has emerged in the form of mobility data specification.

According to the Open Mobility Foundation, the specification of mobility data helps city leaders understand how public streets are used and provides the tools to improve this overall experience in these ways:

  • Real-time and historical data monitoring for better program planning and management
  • Provide digital management tools to reduce operating costs and staff time spent monitoring mobility programs and service providers
  • Enable real-time policy changes to adapt to events and emergencies
  • Support policies that enable dynamic pricing, fair access and security initiatives

Kiwibot machines share data with cities and other partners through the specification of mobility data. This framework allows cities to respond to security issues on the right-of-way and even to geo-fence a robot’s territory. Varela said using the data standard has helped Kiwibot build responsible and open relationships with cities.

“Kiwibot’s data effort is a milestone, as the company has become the first robot, robot delivery and delivery company to adhere to an international standard that will align urban and private incentives,” Varela said.

MDS is a set of APIs which are protocols that allow data to flow securely between cities and providers. The three main APIs allow cities and suppliers to communicate in these ways:

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