Articles  |  ,   |  September 20, 2016

Ethics of healthcare robotics: Towards responsible research and innovation

Article by Bernd Carsten Stahla and Mark Coeckelberghab.
Published in Robotics and Autonomous Systems.


How can we best identify, understand, and deal with ethical and societal issues raised by healthcare robotics? This paper argues that next to ethical analysis, classic technology assessment, and philosophical speculation we need forms of reflection, dialogue, and experiment that come, quite literally, much closer to innovation practices and contexts of use. The authors discuss a number of ways how to achieve that. Informed by their experience with “embedded” ethics in technical projects and with various tools and methods of responsible research and innovation, the paper identifies “internal” and “external” forms of dialogical research and innovation, reflections on the possibilities and limitations of these forms of ethical–technological innovation, and explores a number of ways how they can be supported by policy at national and supranational level.


  • Traditional approaches to the ethics of robotics are often distant from innovation practices and contexts of use.
  • We list key concerns of ethics of healthcare robots.
  • Collaborative and embedded ethics can help address ethics of healthcare robotics.
  • Responsible research and innovation (RRI) offers a broad array of tools to ensure acceptability of technology.
  • RRI in ICT can point out how social concerns can be incorporated.

About the Authors

  • Bernd Carsten Stahl is Professor of Critical Research in Technology and Director the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. His interests cover philosophical issues arising from the intersections of business, technology, and information. This includes ethical questions of current and emerging of ICTs, critical approaches to information systems and issues related to responsible research and innovation.
  • Mark Coeckelbergh is Professor of Philosophy of Media and Technology at the University of Vienna and is also affiliated to the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University, UK. He is also co-Chair of the IEEE Robotics & Automation Society Technical Committee on Robot Ethics and is involved in European research projects in the areas of robotics and responsible innovation. Previously he was Managing Director of the 3TU Centre for Ethics and Technology. His publications include Growing Moral Relations (Palgrave Macmillan 2012), Human Being @ Risk (Springer 2013), and numerous articles in the area of philosophy of technology, in particular ethics of robotics and ICT. He also has research interests in moral philosophy, environmental philosophy and ethics of finance.