Corvus: Urban Air Mobility Solutions for Package Delivery; Autonomous Vehicles and Virtue Ethics in Societal Experimentation

Medina, Joseff, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
McDaniel, James, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Both my technical and STS research work with the issue of implementing fully
autonomous systems into vehicles. A vehicle that is controlled by a fully autonomous system is a
vehicle that relies solely on its own programming in order to maneuver and perform any actions
deemed necessary in order to achieve an objective. While both my STS research and technical
work are involved with autonomous vehicles, they differ in how they approach the issue of
implementing autonomous vehicles. My STS research focuses on the ethical implications of
utilizing unproven autonomous systems in an unrestricted, public setting. My technical research
consists of the design of an autonomous delivery drone delivery system.
My technical work focuses on the design of an autonomous drone for package delivery
logistics. While remote control drones are common, there has never been a wide spread
application of fully autonomous drones of any sort. Working with a team of other undergraduate
engineers, we designed a drone fully capable of autonomous flight from the ground up. The
drone is capable of picking up new packages from an origin point and dropping them off at a
destination within an urban environment for a total of two trips, all without any human
interaction. Current regulations that are enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration make it
difficult to implement autonomous aircraft systems. With our drone design, we hope to prove the
viability of autonomous drone systems in a safe and efficient manner.
My STS research focuses on the effects of exposing an immature autonomous vehicle
system to the public. I explore this topic within the realm of virtue ethics, and focus on the case
of Elaine Herzberg’s death as a result of Uber’s autonomous vehicle experiments. Uber failed to
practice the virtues of temperance and prudence when introducing their self-driving vehicles into
society. This ultimately led to Uber executing an immoral societal experiment. Using evidence
from this case, I build the argument that mature application of virtue ethics is essential to the
success of an engineering societal experiment. The goal of my research is to explore the
relationship between how virtue ethics are practiced and how societal experiments are applied.
Working on both my STS research and my technical research has helped me to
understand both projects within a different context. Through working on my technical project, I
can appreciate the difficulties that face engineers when designing autonomous systems for use in
the general public. It is already difficult to design an autonomous drone just to achieve its main
objective, but it is even more difficult and necessary to overdesign the drone for safety and
regulations. Through working on my STS research, I realize that I cannot take autonomous
systems for granted. I have a much greater understanding of virtue ethics now, and applied that
understanding to my work on the autonomous drone. I believe that working on both projects in
tandem has helped me to grow as an engineer, as I can now appreciate the design of a technology
through both a technical and ethical lens.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Autonomous Vehicles, Drone Delivery, Uber, Virtue Ethics

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: James Mcdaniel
STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli
Technical Team Members: David Normansell, Cristhian Vasquez, Brett Brunsink, Henry Smith III, Timothy Mather, Daniel Choi, Derrick Devairakkam, Gino Giansante, JD Parker, Joseff Medina, Justin Robinson, Philip Hays, Alejandro Britos

Issued Date: