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The Ethics of Drone Design: Bridging Technology, Ethics, and Social Impact

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February 15th, 2024

Ethics webinar

As drone technology and its applications evolve, the ethical dimensions of its  design become increasingly crucial. To provide a platform to discuss this pertinent issue, WeRobotics and the Flying Labs Network hosted a webinar featuring Dylan Cawthorne, Associate Professor at the Drone Center at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. A champion for the use of ethics and human values in engineering, Dr. Cawthorne recently authored the book The Ethics of Drone Design, which set the stage for a meaningful discussion.

Moderated by WeRobotics Community Coordinator, Mfon Udechukwu, the webinar aimed to explore the ethical considerations surrounding drone design, emphasizing privacy, safety, surveillance, environmental impact, and the complex ethical choices faced by technology designers and policymakers. 

“The humanitarian aspects of technology can be complicated. It's very challenging to quantify or to qualify how successful you are, and I think that sometimes we have this technology first and then humans, and what we need to do is flip this priority and go humans first and then technology supports that.”

— Dr. Dylan Cawthorne

The Ethics of Drone Design revolves around four key drones Dr. Cawthorne designed, each addressing different aspects of human values and societal impact: a medical transportation drone, a search and rescue drone, an educational drone, and a spiritual drone (which seeks to explore the intersection of humanity and technology). Using these as case studies, Dr. Cawthorne discussed various important aspects of drone design such as the need to design drones that: 

  • mitigate potential risks 
  • are easily identifiable
  • preserve privacy 
  • allow for direct human interaction
  • are made of biodegradable and accessible materials such as wood
  • contribute to societal wellbeing on a spiritual level.

What we often do with drones is we automate systems and we replace humans and we add distance between people. What I wanted to do was eliminate that or at least reduce it as much as possible. What if we didn't just use drones to make money or to transport things or to collect data on people? What if we use drones or technology in a way that sort of spreads good vibes and creates good energy in society?

— Dr. Dylan Cawthorne

To delve into this compelling  discussion, watch the webinar recording.

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