Project Information

RoboTIPS: Developing Responsible Robotics for the Digital Economy 

RoboTIPS is an Established Career Fellowship awarded to Marina Jirotka by the EPSRC. Project reference: EP/S005099/1. It runs from March 2019 to February 2024. Alan Winfield is Fellowship Co Investigator.

RoboTIPS focuses on social robots with the intention to transform these robots to become more responsible technologies. 

Social robots are designed to operate in human environments and interact with humans. Accidents, while hopefully rare, are inevitable and when they happen it is vital that an investigation is able to discover what caused the accident, so that steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of the same accident happening again. 

The project will design and trial an innovative design feature, the Ethical Black Box. This collects data about a robot’s actions in real time and in context. When problematic incidents occur, this black box provides a mechanism for the robot to produce an account of its own actions. 

The Ethical Black Box makes the robot’s actions transparent and enables examination of how the incident occurred, how it may be addressed and how similar incidents may be prevented in future. The project takes a Responsible Innovation approach which will require consideration of and reflection on the processes and practices involved in the development of this innovation.  

Developing the Ethical Black Box

The Ethical Black Box (EBB) is proposed as fundamental to the development of responsible social robots.

We will devise a set of experiments to simulate something going wrong - some sort of robot misbehaviour, and then constitute a mock investigation with witnesses, to reconstruct what happened. We will then produce findings and recommendations as a 'real' investigatory board or inquiry might. 

In this case, we are not taking the EBB to provide the 'answer' to what went wrong, but rather to be a key part of a process of reconciliation so that any individual incident or accident does not jeopardise people's acceptance of social robots en masse; similar to the way that an air accident investigation provides the reassurance we need to continue flying.

Following the Responsible Innovation (RI) approach we take care to consider how to design the EBB responsibly. We will identify ways to:

The EBB serves as a transparency mechanism that can enhance user trust in robots by making the robot’s decision making open and accountable. Taking a grounded approach the research will consider notions of responsibility and governance from the inception of the EBB, through to its assessment in the accident investigations. 

Advancing the responsible digital economy 

We focus on social robots and the EBB as a case study for wider examination of other technologies comprising a responsible digital economy

From this motivating example, we will consider what new notions of responsibility might emerge through novel configurations of technology, society and governance and develop models for how responsibility may be effectively distributed between people, institutions and computational agents. 

We will also conduct a series of speculative re-imaginings of different sorts of novel institutions, technologies, and policy environments as a tool for fostering an appreciation of the issues and creative solutions amongst DE innovators, policy makers and other stakeholders.

We will carry out various engagement and dissemination activities across the 5 years of the Fellowship. We will also make available a Responsibility Toolkit and a Trust Rights and Relational based approach for developers, innovators, policy makers and other relevant stakeholders.