GUEST EDITORS: Eduard Fosch Villaronga (lead GE), Leiden University, NL Heike Felzmann, NUI Galway, Ireland Ann-Marie Hughes, University of Southampton, U.K. Alexandra Kapeller, Linköping University, Sweden
Deborah G. Johnson, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia, Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics, Emeritus; Adjunct Professor, Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway Mohamed Bouri, Rehabilitation and Assistive Robotics at Robotics Systems Lab (LSRO) at EPFL, Switzerland Charles Melvin Ess, Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, Norway
DESCRITPION Wearable robots (WRs) are an emerging technology designed to augment, train or supplement motor functions. Usually worn over clothing, WRs are mechanical devices that are essentially anthropomorphic in nature, are worn by an operator and fit closely to the body, and work in concert with the operator's movements. Ideally, they work in seamless integration with the user’s (residual) musculoskeletal system and sensory-motor control, with minimal cognitive disruption and required compensatory motion. The term ‘wearable robots’ includes both exoskeletons and orthoses, which relate to WR’s purposes.
Although they also contextualize the computer in such a way that the human and computer are inextricably intertwined, WRs are different from wearable computing in general, e.g. fitness trackers, smart watches or head-mounted displays, which are also body-borne devices but lack the influence on motor functions and subsequent intertwinement of human and machine). WRs should be also distinguished from social robots, which are external to the body; and prosthesis, which replace rather than support limbs.
To provide appropriate augmentation or supplementation of physical capabilities, WRs are fastened directly to the user’s body and process vast amounts of data. Through their close human-machine interaction, active WRs may generate destructive forces whose controlled output behavior may not always be in agreement with the user’s intent. This particular, close interaction with the user raises ethical, legal and social (ELS) issues, e.g., questions about safety, responsibility, and identity, which differ from those of other, previously mentioned, robot technology types that interact differently with users, e.g., socially assistive robots.
So far, the ethical, legal and societal (ELS) implication community has insufficiently engaged with the topic of the design and use of WRs, although concepts like privacy-by-design have been developed since the 90s, and, after the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, are even legally binding in Europe. Moreover, the existing literature on the ethics of robotics has been criticized for being too distant from innovation practices and contexts of use.
Engagement with these ELS issues is crucial, as guidance and regulation of the design of these devices are needed urgently. The EU has recognized the importance of this subject through their funding of the COST action CA16116 on Wearable Robots for Augmentation, Assistance or Substitution of Human Motor Functions, which has a dedicated working group on ELS issues (European Cooperation in Science and Technology and the framework programme Horizon 2020). The CA16116 ELS WG aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of ELS issues in Wearable Robotics, identifying relevant values and ethical, philosophical, legal and social concerns related to the design, deployment and practical use of wearable robots.
In this special issue, contributions that address the central ethical, legal, and societal issues revolving around WRs for the augmentation or supplementation of personal capabilities are considered.
CONTENTS "Exoskeletons for all: The interplay between exoskeletons, inclusion, gender, and intersectionality" by Roger Andre Søraa, Eduard Fosch-Villaronga
"Pomoting inclusiveness in exoskeleton robotics: Addressing challenges for pediatric access" by Eduard Fosch-Villaronga, Anto Čartolovni, Robin L. Pierce
"Social Security and robotization: Possible ways to finance human reskilling and promote employment"
"Wearable robotic exoskeletons: A socio-philosophical perspective on Duchenne muscular dystrophy research" by Alexandra Kapeller, Michael H. Nagenborg, Kostas Nizamis
"ExosCE: A legal-based computational system for compliance with exoskeletons’ CE marking" by Sofia Almpani, Theodoros Mitsikas, Petros Stefaneas, Panayiotis Frangos