A global horizon scan of the future impacts of robotics and autonomous systems on urban ecosystems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Mark A. Goddard
  • Zoe G. Davies
  • Solène Guenat
  • Mark J. Ferguson
  • Jessica C. Fisher
  • Adeniran Akanni
  • Teija Ahjokoski
  • Pippin M.L. Anderson
  • Fabio Angeoletto
  • Constantinos Antoniou
  • Adam J. Bates
  • Andrew Barkwith
  • Adam Berland
  • Christine C. Rega-Brodsky
  • Loren B. Byrne
  • David Cameron
  • Rory Canavan
  • Tim Chapman
  • Stuart Connop
  • Steve Crossland
  • Marie C. Dade
  • David A. Dawson
  • Cynnamon Dobbs
  • Colleen T. Downs
  • Erle C. Ellis
  • Francisco J. Escobedo
  • Paul Gobster
  • Natalie Marie Gulsrud
  • Burak Guneralp
  • Amy K. Hahs
  • Christopher Hassall
  • Marcus Hedblom
  • Dieter F. Hochuli
  • Tommi Inkinen
  • Ioan Cristian Ioja
  • Dave Kendal
  • Tom Knowland
  • Ingo Kowarik
  • Simon J. Langdale
  • Susannah B. Lerman
  • Ian MacGregor-Fors
  • Peter Manning
  • Peter Massini
  • Stacey McLean
  • David D. Mkwambisi
  • Alessandro Ossola
  • Gabriel Pérez Luque
  • Luis Pérez-Urrestarazu
  • Katia Perini
  • Gad Perry
  • Tristan J. Pett
  • Kate E. Plummer
  • Raoufou A. Radji
  • Uri Roll
  • Simon G. Potts
  • Heather Rumble
  • Stevienna de Saille
  • Sebastian Sautter
  • Catherine E. Scott
  • Assaf Shwartz
  • Tracy Smith
  • Robbert P.H. Snep
  • Carl D. Soulsbury
  • Margaret C. Stanley
  • Tim Van de Voorde
  • Stephen J. Venn
  • Philip H. Warren
  • Carla Leanne Washbourne
  • Mark Whitling
  • Nicholas S.G. Williams
  • Jun Yang
  • Kumelachew Yeshitela
  • Ken P. Yocom
  • Martin Dallimer

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Leeds
  • Northumbria University Newcastle
  • University of Kent
  • University of Exeter
  • Lagos State Ministry of Environment
  • Bristol City Council, United Kingdom
  • University of Cape Town
  • Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso
  • Technical University of Munich
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • British Geological Survey
  • Ball State University
  • Pittsburg State University
  • Roger Williams University
  • Sheffield University
  • Arup Group Limited
  • University of East London
  • Balfour Beatty
  • McGill University
  • Universidad Mayor
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore
  • Universidad del Rosario
  • US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • University of Copenhagen
  • The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, Brownsville, Texas 78520, USA
  • School of Ecosystem and Forest Science
  • Division of Conservation Biology
  • University of Bern
  • Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet
  • University of Sydney
  • University of Turku
  • University of Bucharest
  • University of Tasmania
  • Leeds City Council, United Kingdom
  • Technical University Berlin
  • Synthotech Limited
  • Instituto de Ecología A.C. Carretera antigua a Coatepec
  • Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
  • Greater London Authority
  • The Wildlife Land Fund
  • Malawi University of Science and Technology
  • UC Davis
  • Universitat de Lleida
  • Universidad de Sevilla
  • University of Genoa
  • Texas Tech University at Lubbock
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Lomé
  • Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
  • Reading University
  • University of Portsmouth
  • SAUTTER ZT – Advanced Energy Consulting
  • Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
  • Amey Consulting
  • Wageningen University and Research Centre
  • University of Lincoln
  • University of Auckland, School of Biological Sciences
  • Ghent University
  • University of Helsinki
  • UCL
  • The Environment Agency
  • Tsinghua University
  • Addis Ababa University
  • University of Washington, Seattle


Technology is transforming societies worldwide. A major innovation is the emergence of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS), which have the potential to revolutionize cities for both people and nature. Nonetheless, the opportunities and challenges associated with RAS for urban ecosystems have yet to be considered systematically. Here, we report the findings of an online horizon scan involving 170 expert participants from 35 countries. We conclude that RAS are likely to transform land use, transport systems and human–nature interactions. The prioritized opportunities were primarily centred on the deployment of RAS for the monitoring and management of biodiversity and ecosystems. Fewer challenges were prioritized. Those that were emphasized concerns surrounding waste from unrecovered RAS, and the quality and interpretation of RAS-collected data. Although the future impacts of RAS for urban ecosystems are difficult to predict, examining potentially important developments early is essential if we are to avoid detrimental consequences but fully realize the benefits.

Bibliographic note

Funding Information: We are grateful to all of the participants who took part in this study, and to J. Bentley for preparing the figures. This work was funded by the UK government’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (grant EP/N010523/1: ‘Balancing the Impact of City Infrastructure Engineering on Natural Systems using Robots’). Z.G.D. was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (consolidator grant no. 726104).


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
Early online date4 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021