Many children have ailments within the brain that hinder them from meeting certain motion ability milestones. These ailments might include injuries from car accidents, sporting activities, or restrictive movements from cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Medical research has shown imitation with robotics has helped these children develop and meet these milestones. This project will design and create a motion-mimicking robot to provide the solution to this problem for use in a clinical environment.
Part 1 – Toyota case study
In 2010, Toyota Motor Corporation issued recalls for a number of different vehicles with “sticking” accelerator pedals. The recall and controversy surrounding it has its roots in 2007, when accelerator glitches were first discovered in the Toyota Tundra model of trucks [CNN10]1. The first recalls were issued in 2007 on Lexus model vehicles with defective floor mats. The defects came to a head in August 2009, when a family of four was killed after the accelerator on their Lexus ES 350 became stuck under the floor mat [CNN10]1.
The sticky accelerator issue turned out to be an engineering defect in the vehicle’s software that caused the pedals to stick, not just an issue with misshapen floor mats. Part of the controversy generated from Toyota resulted from the delay in public response or action from Toyota in the weeks following the incident [Die12]2. Many times, the issue seemed to be downplayed by Toyota’s news releases and public informing. The lack of urgency on Toyota’s part is an example of poor handling of previous unseen risks, a result of poor planning.
There are a number of ethical issues that fed into and resulted from the accelerator incidents and recall. For many years, Toyota gained a reputation for cars that were safe and reliable [Die12]2. The defective pedals and recall came at the end of a decade where Toyota sought to grow and surpass General Motors as the largest automobile company in the world. This desire for growth necessitated an expansion of Toyota’s manufacturing away from its home country of Japan, which resulted in an expansion of their supply. For years, Toyota prided itself on principles of “kaizen” and “genchi genbutsu”, translating to “continuous improvement” and “inspecting problems at the source”, respectively [Die12]2. Toyota’s culture and reputation for excellence went hand in hand with a culture of hesitance to accept responsibility in the wake of the incidents.
An “Accelerator may stick, use caution” warning label on the vehicles would have been grossly negligent on the part of Toyota, primarily because the users of such an automobile would be put at risk of fatality in the defective vehicle. “Caution” does not adequately cover conditions up to death of the user, especially in the automobile industry.
Toyota did not appear to broach any ethical issues in the advertising of their vehicles. For many years, Toyota’s advertising focus and reputation were built on concepts of quality, durability, and reliability, with safety as an implied feature found on all modern automobiles [Rec10]3. To say Toyota had been unethical to not advertise an unexpected engineering issue would be a stretch. But, this does not excuse their mishandling of informing the public during the recall process. Here, the lack of recognition of a serious issue and lack of action to remedy the issues represents unethical behavior on the part of Toyota.
The takeaway is that rapid expansion and growth of a company must be equally met with risk management and mitigation strategies, rather than letting growth and greed drive the company or project’s priorities. Toyota let growth inhibit their principle of kaizen, which would meet the increasing growth of the company with increasing vigilance in inspecting the quality and safety of each component produced by the growing supply chain [Con10]4. Conversations of growth and market dominance must go hand in hand with growing and dominating the standards of quality, and Toyota did not accomplish this. The whole event represents an ethical failure on the part of Toyota to uphold their internal standards and external reputation as a provider of safe vehicles to consumers.
Part 2 – Engineering Ethics for the MIMER project
Because the MIMER project has a final application in a clinical setting, there are a number of ethical issues its use can raise. But, these issues are not likely to be encountered in depth during our stage of the project. The main ethical questions raised around MIMER come after its integration into a clinical setting, which our project will lightly touch upon at the end of our 2013-2014 timeline. There are certainly ethical questions to be raised about the place of robotics in the clinical environment – there are larger discussions on this involving robotic surgery, databases to aid doctors in diagnosis, and more. In the end, MIMER is a tool for clinicians to help meet their development goals – similar to music, a stretch band, or braces in a physical therapy environment. Most of the ethical considerations required for our project deal with the pieces that make up MIMER – the robotic skeleton, microprocessor and camera, and power circuitry.
We designed MIMER to ensure any failure of the Kinect sensor used to read in user motion does not cause personal injury or property losses by placing the Kinect far from the patient and use a non-flammable material for the external shell of the robot. Also included in Microsoft’s user agreement for the Kinect for Windows software is the agreement that follows: “a user must take steps to design and test your Kinect for Windows Applications to ensure that your applications do not present unreasonable risks of personal injury or death, property damage, or other losses. Kinect Sensors utilize complex hardware and software technology that may not always function as intended” [Mic12]5. The project incorporates this agreement into our designs and testing.
One ethical topic that must be considered for our project is the patient confidentiality, in regards to the data used to reproduce a patient’s motion. We are protecting user privacy by not storing any information on the user. Moreover, our development environment is based in Windows to meet software’s licenses and the user agreement of the Kinect. In addition, the distributed code must clearly state that it is for Kinect use only and the user of the code is required to agree to the Microsoft Kinect user agreement. Finally, the code is an open source project, and a valid code copyright notice will be displayed to protect our code.
Another consideration required is to not distribute any code that is not written by any member of the team. MIMER runs off some code from Microsoft; which we are allowed to use for this project, but the code cannot be distributed beyond our scope. There are additional code resources from Codeplex.com, which are also written under a similar Microsoft license. All of these factors considered leave us with no clear ethical dilemmas in the software or hardware we are using on the Kinect and sensing area of the project.
In designing the power circuit for MIMER, there are a few ethical areas to consider. The most important ethical consideration is that the power system will meet the customer requirements in all aspects and be as safe as any commercially available power solution. In order to accomplish these goals, rigorous testing regimens are currently in place for the power circuit, testing a variety of conditions and stress environments to ensure safe operation of the power circuit even under extreme circumstances. While there can always be unintended consequences through the long life a product, as seen in the case of the Toyota recalls, we are designing the circuit with enough failsafes that such unintended operation would seldom lead to harm of the end user.
Finally, there are few ethical considerations to be made in the mechanical skeleton of the MIMER. Our main concerns were that the skeleton be as safe for long periods of operation as the rest of the components, and extensive testing along with high quality components have shown that to be the case.
Overall, the MIMER is a complex and exciting project, with thankfully few aspects that require concrete ethical considerations due to the open source nature of many of our components. As the project advances into the application stage, some ethical issues may arise, but the issues are minimal at this time.