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Responsible domestic robotics: exploring ethical implications of robots in the home

Lachlan Urquhart (School of Law, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK and School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Dominic Reedman-Flint (School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Natalie Leesakul (School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 14 June 2019

Issue publication date: 4 September 2019




The vision of robotics in the home promises increased convenience, comfort, companionship and greater security for users. The robot industry risks causing harm to users, being rejected by society at large or being regulated in overly prescriptive ways if robots are not developed in a socially responsible manner. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the challenges and requirements for designing responsible domestic robots.


The paper examines definitions of robotics and the current commercial state of the art. In particular, it considers the emerging technological trends, such as smart homes, that are already embedding computational agents in the fabric of everyday life. The paper then explores the role of values in design, aligning with human computer interaction, and considers the importance of the home as a deployment setting for robots. The paper examines what responsibility in robotics means and draws lessons from past home information technologies. An exploratory pilot survey was conducted to understand user concerns about different aspects of domestic robots such as form, privacy and trust. The paper provides these findings, married with literature analysis from across technology law, computer ethics and computer science.


By drawing together both empirical observations and conceptual analysis, this paper concludes that user centric design is needed to create responsible domestic robotics in the future.


This multidisciplinary paper provides conceptual and empirical research from different domains to unpack the challenges of designing responsible domestic robotics. In doing this, the paper seeks to bridge the gap between the normative dimensions of how responsible robots should be built, and the practical dimensions of how people want to live with them in context.



The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of all project participants and all project activities to the ideas that underpin this paper. The paper was presented at ETHICOMP 2018, and the authors thank participants for their comments.

Funding: The research benefitted from the activities undertaken in: the “Moral-IT: Enabling Design of Ethical and Legal IT Systems” project as part of the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute (EPSRC Grant EP/M02315X/1); RCUK Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training (EPSRC Grant EP/G037574/1).

Copyright: Copyright remains with the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Urquhart, L., Reedman-Flint, D. and Leesakul, N. (2019), "Responsible domestic robotics: exploring ethical implications of robots in the home", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 246-272.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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