The origins, types, and advances of mobile robots

Like many other technological advancements, drones and AVs have its origins in science fiction2. While dating back to the 1920s (Wilson, 2012; Bagloee et al., 2016), the evolution of both technologies is linked to the rise of the military-industrial complex in the twentieth century (Barry, 2013). Indeed, as mentioned in the introduction, it was the US Department of Defence’s DARPA project that led to the expansion of mobile robots. The initial military use of drones was for surveillance purposes in the Gulf War (1990-1991), in former Yugoslavia (1991-1995) and the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia (Finn and Wright, 2012; Hayes et al., 2014). I still recall looking up the night sky with my parents in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina, trying to decipher whether a slow-moving object above our heads was a fighter plane or, marginally less frightening, a drone that did not carry weapons. Today, UAVs are frequently used in war zones and conflict areas for surveillance and physical elimination of terror suspects and ‘enemy combatants’. This application raises questions around the acceptability of drones’ deployment, given Asimov’s law and notion that robot ethics aims to prevent machines from banning humans (Asaro, 2006). While the overarching narrative for the use of drones in the military context is that this technology ‘does the right thing with minimum collateral damage’, critics have been fast to point out that the use of drones, especially drone strikes, are inhumane, pre-emptive, and amount to war crimes (Coeckelbergh, 2013; Chamayou, 2015; Wall, 2016). Other issues include targeting non-civilian and civilian populations, proportionality, just or unjust use of force, and ins in bello (see Enemark, 2013). As these complex issues require a thorough analysis and attention, this chapter will mostly focus on civil drones; military drones will be discussed sporadically, leaving the discussion around issues identified above for future publications.

Contemporary civil drones are used for commercial, state, recreational, community, rescue and other commercial and entertainment purposes (Finn and Wright, 2012; Boucher, 2016). Border control has been one of the key areas for the deployment of civil drones. The US border agency Customs and Border Protection signalled its interest in drones in the late 1990s, while first drones patrolled the US-Mexico border in 2003 (Barry, 2013). The expansion of driverless cars, on the other hand, has been underpinned by a road safety narrative as predictions suggested they could eliminate at least 90% of civilian road deaths (Tegmark, 2017: Chapter 3, section Al for transportation). At present, there are two types of autonomous cars that can perform driving functions without human interference or control; they are self-contained autonomous vehicles and interconnected autonomous vehicles. Self-contained vehicles rely solely on the information gathered from and within a vehicle. On the other hand, interconnected vehicles receive data from a vehicle and the outside environment, mostly through a wireless connection (Gumey, 2015). Both self-contained and interconnected vehicles have been perceived as a solution for a range of social issues, such as safer and a lower cost of transport, drink driving, and transportation for the elderly, people with limited mobility, and underage populations (Gumey, 2015; Bagloee et al., 2016; Woods, 2019). Importantly, both types of autonomous mobile robots discussed in this chapter are likely to have a significant impact on offending and crime control.

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