Robots and Society (RO-SO) - Tutorial at RO-MAN 2021 Conference (12.08.2021)

Robots and Society: Ethical, Legal, and Technical Perspectives on Integrating Robots in the Home- and Healthcare Systems and Services (RO-SO)

Keywords: Ethical perspectives, legal perspectives, and standards, technical challenges, and opportunities, (health)care robots, assistive robots, healthcare services, good care

Link to 30th IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication Conference (RO-MAN) 2021:

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Statement of objectives

The RO-SO tutorial is a continuation of the previous tutorials regarding robots, ethics, legal, and technical aspects. The tutorial is part of the 30th IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (ROMAN 2021). It focuses on providing an overview and discussing the ethical, legal, and technical perspectives, including challenges, dilemmas, and advantages and opportunities of integrating robots as part of home- and healthcare systems and services. The following two questions will guide the overall objective for this tutorial, but these will not limit the talks:

  1. How does the meaning of good care change when we integrate robots as part of the home- and healthcare systems and services? What does good care mean when we integrate assistive robots as part of the home- and healthcare services?
  2. What are some of the ethical, legal, and technical challenges and opportunities when integrating assistive care robots in the home- and healthcare services?

The latest advanced technologies, such as intelligent robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) based systems, present both challenges and opportunities for different fields (see the extensive review from Torresen, 2018). One of the fields where robots seem to be promising is home- and healthcare services. While this kind of assistive and social robots seems to be already well integrated into some cultures, such as the Japanese one, due to the (techno-) animism tradition well-embedded in their society, in Western culture, robots are not (yet) as well accepted to be part of our everyday lives, homes, hospitals, rehabilitation- or other care processes (World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology 2017).

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Further, with the ageing population across Europe (Eurostat 2019), and in the world (Unbehaun et al. 2019; Beer et al. 2012), these services face challenges in meeting the demand. For instance, studies show that integrating robots in health- and home care could potentially give access to better care and also provide better health monitoring for the old population and other care receivers. This is supported by previous studies that argue that body-worn sensors, wearables, personal safety alarms such as bracelets or necklaces alarms, or other self-monitoring devices are often experienced as being intrusive by the care receiver (Alcalá et al. 2017). Thus, studies show that this kind of safety devices are either not used actively or used in the wrong way (Procter et al. 2014). In such cases, other types of devices are indicated to be used (Johnston, Grimmer-Somers, and Sutherland 2010), such as robots (Caleb-Solly 2016). In addition, previous studies show that the use of robots in the home has a huge potential and can prolong independent living (Bedaf, Gelderblom, and Witte 2015; Bedaf and de Witte 2017). Thus, robots may potentially solve some of these challenges. However, this is also an emerging field that brings along ethical, legal, and technical challenges and opportunities for better care.  

In this sense, at the macro-level, the European Union is currently trying to establish detailed laws, rules, regulations, and standards on how deterministic and cognitive assistive robots could be integrated into different services, including healthcare services, besides the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (European Union 2018). These legal aspects are meant to reflect the European Union’s fundamental values, which cover respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law (European Union 2016). In turn, this may affect how robots will be designed within- or for the EU-market, since robots used by the EU-countries will soon have to comply with the new AI and robotics regulations. This, of course, may also put challenges but also create new opportunities for designers, engineers, and roboticists around how they design, engineer, implement or use robots. Therefore, the tutorial will also address how the EU will probably regulate AI and robotics in the following years. This is relevant for roboticists globally, as the EU is a suitable market for robots. Moreover, as the proposed European legislation is the first of its kind globally, this may be the blueprint for new laws in other world regions. Currently, it is expected that a new European law, to be proposed during the spring of 2021, will directly address artificial intelligence and, at least indirectly, robotics. This new law's two likely cornerstones are a focus on trustworthy AI (and robotics) and a risk-based approach. To achieve trustworthy technology, the European Parliament focuses on ethical principles for developing, deploying, and using artificial intelligence, robotics, and related technologies. The EU Parliament emphasizes ethical principles, so law and ethics need to be seen in conjunction. 

As part of the ethical principles, we also propose in this tutorial Universal Design (UD) principles (Story, Mueller, and Mace 1998) as an ethical charter for designing assistive robots and human-robot interaction. UD principles have been used so far in physical environments for providing accessibility to people with disabilities and in the design of web interfaces and proved efficient in designing for inclusion. Under the umbrella of UD, the tutorial will include presentations and discussions around users' inclusion and diversity of users that shall use or interact with care robots and how the principles can be used to design future care robots and design human-robot interaction. Along the same lines, the tutorial will introduce the European Directive 2019/882 on the accessibility requirements of products and services (European Union 2019). Specifically, the tutorial will show why, how, and when these principles can be valuable and relevant for robot designers, engineers, researchers, and others working within the robotics domain. These topics will be exemplified with concrete examples from current or previous research projects on how elderly and non-elderly users experience interaction with robots, privacy, and safety issues. This part of the tutorial will connect the aspects of UD and inclusion to ethics, ethics of care, roboethics (Asaro 2006), and some of the previous work carried out by leading researchers within the philosophy of technology on robots and care robots (see Coeckelbergh 2020; 2021; van Wynsberghe 2013; 2014).

In addition, assistive robots or care robots used in the home are considered welfare technologies. The notion of ‘welfare technology’ was initially founded in 2007 in Denmark as an umbrella term for all the technological development used in everyday life and supports welfare society (Søndergaard et al., 2017). The concept of welfare technology has put the user and the citizen in the focus of technology development, changing, in this way, the working and development processes of the technology and services provided as part of the welfare technology. Interestingly, welfare technology is seen by Søndergaard et al. (2017) as the opposite term for Universal Design. While welfare technologies, in our case, e.g., robots, are meant to correct, support, complement, or assist users due to a low ability of a specific user, UD focuses on creating products and services for as many as possible. Yet, UD may come in as a handy concept to design inclusive technologies for a wide range of diverse users.

Nevertheless, concepts such as human safety, privacy, and control regarding these assistive or care robots may get new valences from what we were used to. The tutorial will also cover directly or indirectly these concepts through the talks included. Finally, different sub-questions from the ones listed below will be answered through the talks directly or indirectly:

  • What makes an assistive robot or care robot safe, and who bears the responsibility of its safety?
  • Is a “safe” robot from a legal point of view perceived as “safe” by human users?
  • The EU is working on a specific regulatory framework for AI and robotics. What are the rules that need to be respected by roboticists planning to introduce robots into the EU market?
  • What makes a robot respecting a user's privacy? How does the respect for privacy influence the use of data in AI and robots, and what legal grounds for data processing of personal data need to be in place? Does the use of robots require informed consent from the user, and if so, how can this be obtained? How can data protection by design and default be embedded in robotics?
  • How will the data be stored about the user, where, and for how long? Who will have access to the human user data: the user him- or herself, the medical staff, the manufacturer of the robot, or other stakeholders?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities for providing better care through the integration of robots as part of the care process for vulnerable users (elderly, disabled)?
  • Does the slow speed of a robot imply a perceived control over the robot? How do we humans understand control when it comes to (semi-)autonomous robots as part of the healthcare services? Do we wish to have control? Does this give us more control or more responsibility?
  • What are the trade-offs between human safety, privacy, and control of robots?

Specifically, the tutorial will address the overall objective of good care guided by the initial stated questions see through the perspectives of:

  1. ethics,
  2. legal perspective, and
  3. technical perspective

The co-organizers and speakers of this tutorial have extensive experience from their field, including robotics, universal design, law, and digital ethics. Please, see their short bios included under the Organizers and speakers in the navigation menu.

Intended audience: This tutorial is intended audience is junior and senior academics and companies, but also other organizations interested in different aspects of integrating robots in healthcare systems and services.

Expected number of participants: We expect around 20-100 participants.

List of addressed topics

The topics covered in this tutorial cover directly or indirectly:

  1. Ethical dilemmas and challenges when integrating robots in the healthcare services
  2. Legal standards, laws, and regulations concerning robots
  3. Privacy, safety, and control aspects
  4. Designing for inclusion and diversity of potential users
  5. Robots as welfare technologies
  6. Human and robot autonomy
  7. Technical challenges and opportunities with care robots for good care
  8. Concept vacuum: do we need other concepts? Are some of the current concepts obsolete and need to be discarded? Or do we need some of the concepts to develop further?

Statement of Inclusion and Diversity

The tutorial aims to provide:

  • asynchronous access to materials,
  • synchronous and asynchronous forms of interaction, discussions, or Q&A (e.g., speech and text-based)
  • a webpage dedicated to the event
  • session timing details provided well in advance for planning purposes, and
  • inclusive time zone schedule display.
  • The organizers will collect the audience's opinions using an interactive tool (e.g., Kahoot!). The participants in this tutorial will be able to respond using their smartphones to answer multiple-choice quizzes.
  • If the event is organized virtually, the participants will have the possibility to ask questions through chat, which will be answered either directly on chat or live. Polls will be collected among the attendees.
  • The organizers will potentially provide small break-out rooms for discussion, if available.


This work is partially supported by The Research Council of Norway as a part of the Multimodal Elderly Care systems (MECS) project, under grant agreement 247697, and Vulnerability in the Robot Society (VIROS) project under grant agreement 288285.


Tags: Robots, Care Robots, Ethics, Legal Frameworks, Technical Aspects, AI, Regulation, GDRP, AI Regulation, Machinery Directive, EU, vulnerability
Published May 18, 2021 11:33 PM - Last modified May 21, 2021 4:29 PM