Shake Power Bank; A Virtue Ethics Analysis of the Development and Testing of Uber's Self-Driving Volvo XC90

Grossman, Emma, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Momot, Michael, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, University of Virginia

Although my technical work and my STS research are not strongly related and pertain to very different technologies, working on both projects simultaneously has allowed me to gain a well-rounded understanding of the numerous obstacles faced when developing a new technology. Both projects offer a look into different stages of development. My technical work explores the challenges associated in the early conception, design, and fabrication phases of a novel product. My STS research delves into issues that arise in the later developmental stages of redesign and testing, as well as societal factors concerning regulatory and ethical problems tied to new technologies.
My group’s technical project explores the use of mechanical motion as a means to produce electrical power. My capstone team designed and built the Shake Power Bank, a hand held device that creates and stores electrical charge in a battery when shaken. The battery can then be used to charge any device that uses a USB connection. The portable device acts as a typical power bank that many people use to charge their phone or tablet on the go. The added advantage of our device is that rather than having to recharge the power bank by plugging it into a wall socket, the Shake Power Bank can be recharged through simple human motion. This means it can be used in any situation or environment when it is needed. A virtually unlimited source of renewable energy. The focus of our project was to address the issue of outdoor enthusiasts not having access to power sources while in the wilderness. The Shake Power Bank provides a solution to this problem, and its use can be extended to any environment or situation where there is limited access to traditional means of electricity. This project allowed us to utilize the technical knowledge we have attained from our classes over the past four years, and provided us with valuable experience with the technological development process.
My STS research also focused on the development of a new technology: Uber’s autonomous vehicles. My research analyzes the accident in 2018 involving one of Uber’s self-driving test vehicles that resulted in the death of a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg. This case study explores the associated social issues regarding legal or ethical questions that can arise during the technological development processes. Virtue ethics is used as a framework to assess Uber’s moral responsibility based on the choices and decisions made by the company leading up to the fatal accident. The goal of my research paper is to open the discussion of the importance of holding large companies responsible for their actions in order to set an example for fellow engineers in the industry, raising the standard and making improvements in the future.
Working on both of these projects concurrently was extremely valuable. My capstone project gave me a better understanding of the technical obstacles that are abundant in the creation of a new product, which provided context for the many technical issues and decisions Uber was faced with regarding the development of its autonomous vehicle technology. My STS research helped highlight how the way engineers overcome those technical obstacles can have a huge impact on no only the intended users, but society as a whole. As an engineer, it is easy to get wrapped up in the technical nuances of a project. However, it is imperative to keep in mind how the work itself and the choices made throughout the various developmental stages could have a larger impact, positive or negative, on society. I was able to gain a broad understanding of the intricacies of working on developing a new technology and all the internal and external challenges faced throughout the process.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Virtue Ethics, Autonomous vehicles, human powered

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Michael Momot
STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli
Technical Team Members: Erika Davis, Andrew Farruggio, Adam Hershaft, Tierra Peerman, Samuel Varrieur

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