Future city ecosystems: from nature to robotics and back again

The rise of robotics offers a unique opportunity to re-imagine the design and function of urban environments. Future smart cities may behave like complex ecosystems in which humans, nature and robots exist in symbiosis. In these future cities, autonomous robotics systems will increasingly be able to perform tasks to serve society such as construction, maintenance and inspection. Their flexibility will liberate architectural expressiveness, improve urban design and offer new ways to provide the core services that keep cities running.

"I'm curious about...how a butterfly wing can be not only an object of extraordinary beauty but also the source of sound engineering principles informing the robots of tomorrow.Mirko Kovac

Some of the most exciting prospects for these future robotics systems draw their inspiration from energy-efficient, flexible strategies seen in living organisms that can adapt and thrive in complex, changing environments.


Mirko Kovac is director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory and senior lecturer in aero-structures at Imperial College London. He received his PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and, before joining Imperial College, was post-doctoral researcher at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory. Mirko is a founding member of the London Robotics Initiative, which aims to foster collaboration between academia, government and industry.


Mirko’s research draws inspiration from nature to tackle key engineering and fabrication challenges in aerial robotics. His work focuses on novel applications for sensing in air and water and the potential for autonomous robotic construction in future cities. He asks:

  • What sound engineering principles can be derived from observations in nature? How can these inform the design of novel robotic systems, such as machines capable of operating in both air and water?
  • What materials challenges arise when robots are created with these multiple capabilities? How can robotic techniques allow systems to build and repair structures efficiently and reliably in different environments?
  • What kinds of software and sensing technologies are required to enable autonomous function and planning capabilities in individual and collaborating robotic systems?

Foresight and futures work

2035: Tech Foresight
Future of digitisation, automation, artificial intelligence and robotics

Profile Credits

Profile: Kit Huckvale, Pete Papathanasiou