The Bedales Drone Project

In his 1942 short story Runaround the science fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced his “Three Laws of Robotics”

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Robots are now an everyday part of our lives and new drone technology can be seen in mountain rescue, the deployment of weaponry and possibly even the delivery of books! As the relationship of mankind to our creations becomes more and more far-reaching and in every way intimate, there is much to reflect on: the technically possible “coulds”; the philosophical “whys” and “whats”; and the ethical “shoulds”.

Much inspired by last year’s Civics talk by Dr Dirk Gorneson from The University of Southampton on the topic of UAV’s (Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles), I was struck by the implications of this technology for the ethical theory we study in the PRE (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics) department at Bedales; such as in Just War Theory (A2 Level), and the Philosophy of Mind and Artificial Intelligence (studied for BAC PRE Creative Response Block 5). There was growing overlap between the theory and the real world issues emerging in the wake of the technology now available in the field of UAV’s.

Conversing with teachers and students alike it was clear that this was an area well worth exploring. So, with a huge thank you to the BPA for funding the initiative, and to Richard Sinclair and Jack Paxman for their consultation, I can proudly announce The Drone Project’s first acquisition – a quad-copter drone.

This, the first of two drones to be acquired, is well equipped to take steady aerial images and can be remotely piloted and can follow search patterns. The second can be programmed to be (to a certain extent) autonomous and will be able to be fitted with sensors which feedback information that can then be acted upon in real time. We already have a Quad Copter expert at the school, Edward Boyd-Wallis, who has designed his own drone as part of his A Level.

Proposals for upcoming projects include:

  • Philosophy – Machine Ethics Project (MEP)
  • Search and Rescue Project – The emphasis of this would be to consider the ethical judgements around prioritisation, resource distribution etc., alongside the practical applications. We hope to make links with existing rescue organisations, such as the RNLI, in order to participate with the wider community.
  • Science project – create an aerial map of the sand quarry in order to study the regeneration of plants (“succession”) year on year.
  • Geography – Block 3 project Orientation project and mapping of the Bedales site.
  • Computing – Artificial Intelligence programming.
  • Just War Theory – As part of the A-level Ethics course.
  • Design – Modification and implementation, 3D printing.
  • Sport – Analysis and documentation of sports events.

An aerial photo of Bedales taken by the drone:

Image taken by the Bedales Drone

By  Benedict Haydn-Davies, Teacher of PRE

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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