Chambers, Maya, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Rogers, Hannah, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Delong, Todd, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Virginia

The research question that I chose to investigate in my prospectus was, “how can engineers best ensure there are primarily reliable and safe autonomous systems available for use now and in the future?” My technical and STS projects both address aspects and propose a solution to the socio-technical problem in a different but meaningful way. In what follows, I will reflect and describe each of my proposed projects as well as assess the value I gained from working on both the technical and STS projects concurrently. Working on these projects simultaneously permitted me to build upon my understanding of autonomous systems for the purpose of designing a better and safer autonomous system. Therefore, I was able to develop a more promising technical solution that addresses the problems of autonomous systems more efficiently for a user’s benefit.

The technical solution to my research question entailed a detailed outline of an automated pH balancer for freshwater fish tanks. The new design of the automated pH balancer will make use of cost-efficient materials suitable for people of a variety of backgrounds to purchase and most importantly, will implement a safety mechanism that will notify a user when they need to check on their tank and the automated pH balancer personally. The proposed design is an improved version of the existing pH balancers because it still meets the same requirements of the existing pH balancers while including additional features such as a web-application for observable data and a notification indicating when the pH reading is faulty due to it being out of solution. In addition, the STS project ties into my research question by aiming to understand and address the practices and factors that went into the current approach of designing automated systems, such as driverless vehicles, that led to the consequences of Uber’s driverless vehicle. The framework actor-network-theory was used in this project to analyze the role human and non- human actors play in a socio-technical natural system and how these actors affect the stability and viability of an autonomous system. The case portrays that the actors involved such as the driver, the company Uber, and the engineers all created a network that had substantial impact which could have been prevented if the safety measures were in place.

The value of having worked on both the technical and STS projects simultaneously instead of independently was very beneficial and significant because the technical portion helped me evaluate the underlying problem in my STS project and the STS portion of the project showed me the potential issues that needed to be prevented before they became a problem. I learned how similar the two projects are and because of this, I was able to see which aspects each project was missing or could be built on more since they were aligned. The worth I attained from working on these projects at once meets no end. For example, I would not have realized how reliant users become on technology and how important it is for users to be notified if their tank has a problem if I had not done research on my STS project. They brought to my attention just how vital the technical project is to society because, as an engineer, implementing a system that is no different from the technology before it and that does not improve upon existing technology would add no additional value to the world. All in all, I was able to conclude from doing these projects together that neither society nor technology can exist without one another. They rely on one another to grow, and it is the job of an engineer to steer that growth in the right direction.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Autonomous Systems, Actor-Network Theory

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Technical Advisor: Todd Delong
STS Advisor: Hannah Rogers
Technical Team Members: Nile Alkebulan, Roberto Bryan, Emmanuel Ogunjirin

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