Dr. Jason Moats, Director of the TEEX Testing and Innovation Center (TT&IC), won Honorable Mention for Best Paper in Ethical Robotics Systems at the 2021 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) for a co-authored piece with Dr. Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University. The article, “Responsible Robotics Innovation for Disaster Response,” analyzes 36 case studies of ground, aerial and marine robots used in various disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic response. From this analysis, the authors offer a model of the decision-making process for the adoption of robotic technology by first responders. Because decisions to implement technology must occur rapidly in disaster scenarios, it is essential to consider this process and the ethical implications, along with the availability, suitability and risk of these technologies. This groundbreaking study offers new ways to consider robot adoption for disaster response and highlights ethical and policy implications for robotics adoption.
After presenting the decision-making model, the authors suggest some unethical syndromes that may arise in this process. These include roboticists promoting pet projects not appropriate for the situation, participating in disaster relief as disaster tourism, implementing technology from other countries without considering cultural appropriateness and deploying robots with hidden agendas such as data collection. Furthermore, the authors caution that it is not always beneficial to adopt technology for disaster response, as “[r]obot failures have real consequences to saving lives and mitigating the disaster.” Finally, the authors provide a detailed checklist of questions for roboticists and incident command to ensure that the adoption of robots in disaster response is ethical and beneficial.
The project was sponsored by grants IIS-2032729 and SES-2125988 from the National Science Foundation and can be read here: https://www.ers-workshop.com/pdf/MMers21.pdf. In addition to the paper, the authors also created a podcast on robotics in the COVID-19 response.