Author: Aditya Johri (George Mason University). 

Topic: Sustainability implications in mobility and technology development.   

Type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Electrical, Robotics, Civil, Mechanical, Computing. 

Keywords: Design; Accessibility; Technology Policy; Electric Vehicles; Mobility, Circularity; AHEP; Sustainability; Higher education.
Sustainability competency: Normative; Self-awareness; Strategic; Critical thinking.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure), SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production); SDG 13 (Climate action).   
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindset development.

Educational aim: The objective of this activity is to provide students with an understanding of the complexity of technology development and different considerations that need to be made by stakeholders in the design and implementation of a technology. The activity is set up as a role-play where students are assigned different roles as members of an expert panel providing feedback on the use of E-Scooters on a college campus. 

Educational level: Beginner. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Supporting resources: 

Several different ethical frameworks, codes, or guidelines can be provided to students to prepare for the discussion or to reflect upon during their discussion depending on the students’ disciplinary composition. Here are a few examples:  


Background readings and resources: 

One of the goals of this exercise is to motivate students to undertake their own research on the topic to prepare for the activity. But it is important to provide them with preliminary material to start their own research. Here are a few useful resources for this case:  





Role-play instructions: 

  1. Each student is assigned a role a week before the discussion.
  2. Students assigned to the role of Eva Walker serve as the moderator and lead the conversation based on the script below.
  3. The script provided below is there to guide the discussion, but you should leave room for the conversation to flow naturally and allow everyone to contribute.

One way to ensure students are prepared for the discussion is to assign a few questions from the script as a pre-discussion assignment (short answers). Similarly, to ensure students reflect on the discussion, they can be assigned the last question from the script as a post-discussion exercise. They can also be asked specifically about frameworks and concepts related to sustainability.  


Role-play scenario narrative and description of roles: 

Eva Walker recently started reporting about on-campus traffic issues for the student newspaper. She would have preferred to do more human-interest stories, but as a new member of the staff who had just moved from intern to full-time, she was happy to get whatever opportunity she could. Eva was studying both journalism and creative writing, and this was her dream on-campus job. She also realised that, even though many stories at first didn’t appear to her as though she would be interested in them, as she dug deeper she eventually found an angle with which she could strongly relate.  

One weekday morning, Eva was working on yet another story on parking woes when Amina Ali, one of the editorial staff members, texted her to say that there had been an accident on campus; she just passed it at the intersection of the library and the recreation building, and it might be worth covering. Eva was at the library, and within no time, reached the spot of the accident.  

When Eva arrived, a police vehicle, an ambulance, and a fire engine were all present at the scene, and near the accident site, an e-scooter lay smashed into a tree. It looked like the rider was sitting in the ambulance and was being treated by the medical staff. A little further away, Eva noticed the police speaking to a young woman in a wheelchair. Although Eva’s first instinct was to try to talk to the police or the medical staff to ascertain what had happened, she realised this probably wasn’t the best moment and she would have to wait until later for the official version of the event.  

She looked around and saw a group of four students leaning against a wall with drinks in their hands. A couple of them were vaping. Eva thought that they looked like they had been here for a while, and she walked over to ask them what had happened. From the account they gave her, it appeared as if the e-scooter rider was coming around the bend at some speed, saw the woman in the wheelchair a little too late to ride past her, and, to avoid hitting her, leapt off his e-scooter and let the vehicle hit the tree. Things happened very quickly and no one was exactly sure about the sequence of events, but this was the rough story she got.  

Later, she called the police department on campus and was able to speak with one of the officers to get an official account. The story was very similar to what she already knew. She did find out that nobody was seriously hurt and that the only injuries were to the e-scooter rider and were taken care of at the scene by the medical staff. When she asked about who was to blame or if any legal action was expected, she was told that there were no laws around the use of helmets or speeding for e-scooters yet and that she should reach out later for more information. Eva wrote up what she had so far, sent it over to the editorial staff, and considered her work done.  

But as she was walking back to her halls of residence that evening, her attention was drawn to the large number of e-scooters parked near the library. As she crossed the central campus, she noticed even more e-scooters lying about the intersections, and there was a litter of them around the residence hall. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed them before. Her attention was drawn today, she thought, because of the accident and also because she saw a good Samaritan remove an e-scooter from the sidewalk, as it was blocking the path of one of the self-driving food delivery robots. It’s a sign, Eva thought, this is what she needs to look for more in her next article, the use of e-scooters on campus.  

Eva recognised that, to write a balanced and informative article, as she had been taught to do, she would have to look at many different aspects of the use of e-scooters as well as look broadly at mobility on campus and the use of battery powered vehicles. She had also recently seen e-bikes on campus and, in addition to the food delivery robots, service robots in one of the buildings that she assumed was either delivering paperwork or mail. The accident had also made her realise that, when it came to mobility, accessibility was something that never crossed her mind but that she now understood was an important consideration. She hoped to learn more about it as her research progressed.  

As background research for the article, Eva started reading up on articles and studies published about e-scooters, e-bikes, and urban mobility and came across a range of concerns that had been raised beyond accessibility. First, there were reports that e-scooters are not as environmentally friendly as many service providers had made them out to be. This is related to the production of the battery as well as the short lifespan of the vehicles, and as of yet, there has been no procedure implemented to reuse them (Pyzyk, 2019). Second, there were reports of littering, where e-scooters are often left on sidewalks and other places where they restrict movement of other vehicles, pedestrians, and in particular, those in wheelchairs (Iannelli, 2021). Finally, it was also clear from the reports that accidents and injuries have increased due to e-scooters, especially since many riders do not wear safety gear and are often careless, even inebriated, as there were little to no regulations (2021). When she approached her editor with an outline for an article, she was advised to do some more reporting by talking with people who could shed more light on the issue.  

After some research, Eva shortlisted the following experts across fields related to e-scooters for an interview, and once she spoke with them, she realised that it would help her if she could get them to have a dialogue and respond to some of the questions that were raised by other experts. Therefore, she decided to conduct a focus group with them so that she achieved her goal of a balanced article and did not misrepresent any expert’s point of view.  


Experts/roles for discussion: 

1. Bryan Avery is co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) of RideBy, an e-scooter company. RideBy is one of the options available on campus. Born in a small town, Bryan used to ride his bicycle everywhere while growing up, and for him, founding and leading an e-scooter company provided a chance to merge his interests in personal transportation and new forms of energy. He was a chemical engineer by training, and at a time when most of his friends ended up working for big oil companies, Bryan decided to work on alternative fuels and found himself developing expertise and experience with batteries. For most of the software- and mobile device-related development, RideBy outsourced the work and utilised ready-to-configure systems that were available. By only keeping the core device and battery functionality in-house, they could focus on delivering a much stronger product. Overall, he is quite happy with the success of RideBy so far and can’t help but extol the difference it can make for the environment.  


2. Abiola Abrams is a professor of transportation engineering and an expert on mobility systems. Her work combines systems engineering, computer science, and data analytics. Her recent research is on urban mobility and micro-mobility services, particularly e-bikes. In her research, Dr. Abrams has looked at a host of topics related to e-bikes, many of which are also applicable to e-scooters, including the optimisation of hubs for availability, common path patterns of users, subscription use models, and the e-waste and end of lifecycle for these vehicles. Increasingly, she has become concerned about the abuse of some of these services, especially in cities that attract a lot of tourists, and about the rough use of the vehicles, so much so that many do not even last for a month. In a new project, she is investigating the effect of e-vehicles on the environment and has found that there is mixed evidence for how much difference battery-operated vehicles will actually make for climate change compared to vehicles that use fossil fuels.  


3. Marco Rodrigues works as transportation director for the local county government where the university is based. As part of a recent bilateral international exchange, he got the opportunity to spend time in different cities in Germany to learn about local transportation. He realised very quickly that local transportation was very different in Germany; residents had a range of public, shared options that were missing in the United States. However, he also realised that e-mobility services were being considered across both countries. He investigated this further and found that Germany waited until it could pass some regulations before allowing e-mobility operators to offer services; helmets were mandatory on e-scooters and e-bikes, and riders had to purchase a nominal insurance policy. He also learned that there were strict rules around the sharing of data generated by the vehicles as well as the apps used by riders.  


4. Judy Whitehouse is director of infrastructure and sustainability on campus and responsible for planning the long-term development of the campus from a space perspective, but also increasingly from a sustainability dimension. As the number of students has increased, so has the need for more infrastructure, including classrooms and halls of residence. This has also resulted in greater distances to be traveled on campus. Judy regards e-mobility options as a necessary component of campus life and has been a strong supporter for them. Lately, she has been called into meetings with safety and emergency management people discussing the issue of increased accidents on campus and the littering of e-vehicles across the campus. Not only is it bad for living on campus, but it is also bad for optics. A recent photo featured in the campus newspaper was a stark reminder of just how bad it can look. She is further divided on the use of e-scooters due to misgivings about the sustainability of battery use, as new research suggests that manufacturing batteries and disposing them are extremely harmful for the environment.  


5. Aaron Schneider heads Campus Mobility, a student interest group focused on autonomous vehicles development and use. The group members come from different degree programmes and are interested in both the technical dimensions of mobile solutions and the policy issues surrounding their implementation. Aaron himself is a computer science student with interests in data science, and with some of his fellow members from the policy school, he has been analysing a range of mobility-related datasets that are publicly available online. Of these, the data on accidents is quite glaring, as the number of accidents in which e-scooters are involved has gone up significantly. Aaron and his friends were intrigued by their findings and approached some of the companies to see if they would share data, but they were disappointed when they could not get access. Although the companies said it was due to privacy reasons, Aaron was not too convinced by that argument. He was also denied access to any internal reports about usage patterns of accidents. Ideally, he would have liked to know what algorithms were used for optimising delivery and access, but he knew he was not going to get that information.  


6. Sarah Johnson is the head of accessibility services on campus and is responsible for both technology- and infrastructure-related support for students, faculty, and staff. The growth of the physical campus and the range of technological offerings has significantly increased the workload for her office, and they are really strained in terms of people and expertise. The emphasis from the university leadership is largely on web and IT accessibility, as teaching and other services are shifting quickly online, but Sarah realises that there is still an acute need to provide physical and mobility support to many members of the community. Although all the new buildings are up to code in terms of accessibility, there is still work to be done both for the older buildings and especially for mobility. Campus beautification does not always go along with access. She is also worried about access to devices, as taking part in any campus activity requires not just a computer, but also access to mobile devices that are out of reach economically for many and not easy to use.  


Role-play script: 

To help get the dialogues started and based on her prior conversation with the group, Eva has prepared some initial questions:  

  1. What role are you playing and, from your perspective, what do you see as the biggest pros of using e-vehicles, especially e-scooters on campus?
  2. From your perspective, what do you see as the biggest downside of using e-vehicles, especially e-scooters on campus?
  3. Can you confidently say that e-scooters are an environmentally friendly option?
  4. What current accessibility accommodations would be impacted by the use of e-vehicles, and what new, potential accessibility accommodations might arise from increased use of e-vehicles?
  5. Would we be better off waiting for more regulations to come before deploying these vehicles on campus and, if so, what should those regulations look like?
  6. Should we use automatic regulation of speed on the vehicle based on where it is and/or inform authorities if it is violated?
  7. Can we control where it can go or penalise if not put back?
  8. What guidelines do you recommend for e-scooter usage on campus?  


Authorship and project information and acknowledgements: The scenarios and roles were conceptualised and written by Aditya Johri. Feedback was provided by Ashish Hingle, Huzefa Rangwala, and Alex Monea, who also collaborated on initial implementation and empirical research. This work is partly supported by U.S. National Science Foundation Awards# 1937950, 2335636, 1954556; USDA/NIFA Award# 2021-67021-35329. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies. The research study associated with the project was approved by the Institutional Review Board at George Mason University. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 
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Authors: Dr Gilbert Tang; Dr Rebecca Raper (Cranfield University). 

Topic: Considering the SDGs at all stages of new robot creation. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Computing; Robotics; Electrical; Computer science; Information technology; Software engineering; Artificial Intelligence; Mechatronics; Manufacturing engineering; Materials engineering; Mechanical engineering; Data. 

Keywords: SDGs; AHEP; Sustainability; Design; Life cycle; Local community; Environment; Circular economy; Recycling or recycled materials; Student support; Higher education; Learning outcomes. 
Sustainability competency: Systems thinking; Anticipatory; Critical thinking.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: SDG 9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; More real-world complexity.

Who is this article for? This article is for educators working at all levels of higher education who wish to integrate Sustainability into their robotics engineering and design curriculum or module design. It is also for students and professionals who want to seek practical guidance on how to integrate Sustainability considerations into their robotics engineering. 



There is an urgent global need to address the social and economic challenges relating to our world and the environment (Raper et al., 2022). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for individuals, policy-makers and industries to work to address some of these challenges (Gutierrez-Bucheli et al., 2022). These 17 goals encompass areas such as clean energy, responsible consumption, climate action, and social equity. Engineers play a pivotal role in achieving these goals by developing innovative solutions that promote sustainability and they can use these goals to work to address broader sustainability objectives. 

Part of the strategy to ensure that engineers incorporate sustainability into their solution development is to ensure that engineering students are educated on these topics and taught how to incorporate considerations at all stages in the engineering process (Eidenskog et al., 2022). For instance, students need not only to have a broad awareness of topics such as the SDGs, but they also need lessons on how to ensure their engineering incorporates sustainable practice. Despite the increased effort that has been demonstrated in engineering generally, there are some challenges when the sustainability paradigm needs to be integrated into robotics study programs or modules (Leifler and Dahlin, 2020). This article details one approach to incorporate considerations of the SDGs at all stages of new robot creation: including considerations prior to design, during creation and manufacturing and post-deployment. 


1. During research and problem definition:

Sustainability considerations should start from the beginning of the engineering cycle for robotic systems. During this phase it is important to consider what the problem statement is for the new system, and whether the proposed solution satisfies this in a sustainable way, using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) linked to the SDGs (United Nations, 2018), such as carbon emissions, energy efficiency and social equity (Hristov and Chirico, 2019). For instance, will the energy expended to create the robot solution be offset by the robot once it is in use? Are there long-term consequences of using a robot as a solution? It is important to begin engagement with stakeholders, such as end-users, local communities, and subject matter experts to gain insight into these types of questions and any initial concerns. Educators can provide students with opportunities to engage in the research and development of robotics technology that can solve locally relevant problems and benefit the local community. These types of research projects allow students to gain valuable research experience and explore robotics innovations through solving problems that are relatable to the students. There are some successful examples across the globe as discussed in Dias et al., 2005. 


2. At design and conceptualisation:

Once it is decided that a robot works as an appropriate solution, Sustainability should be integrated into the robot system’s concept and design. Considerations can include incorporating eco-design principles that prioritise resource efficiency, waste reduction, and using low-impact materials. The design should use materials with relatively low environmental footprints, assessing their complete life cycles, including extraction, production, transportation, and disposal. Powered systems should prioritise energy-efficient designs and technologies to reduce operational energy consumption, fostering sustainability from the outset. 


3. During creation and manufacturing:

The robotic system should be manufactured to prioritise methods that minimise, mitigate or offset waste, energy consumption, and emissions. Lean manufacturing practices can be used to optimise resource utilisation where possible. Engineers should be aware of the importance of considering sustainability in supply chain management to select suppliers with consideration of their sustainability practices, including ethical labour standards and environmentally responsible sourcing. Robotic systems should be designed in a way that is easy to assemble and disassemble, thus enabling robots to be easily recycled, or repurposed at the end of their life cycle, promoting circularity and resource conservation. 


4. Deployment:

Many robotic systems are designed to run constantly day and night in working environments such as manufacturing plants and warehouses. Thus energy-efficient operation is crucial to ensure users operate the product or system efficiently, utilising energy-saving features to reduce operational impacts. Guidance and resources should be provided to users to encourage sustainable practices during the operational phase. System designers should also implement systems for continuous monitoring of performance and data collection to identify opportunities for improvement throughout the operational life. 


5. Disposal:

Industrial robots have an average service life of 6-7 years. It is important to consider their end-of-life and plan for responsible disposal or recycling of product components. Designs should be prioritised that facilitate disassembly and recycling (Karastoyanov and Karastanev, 2018). Engineers should identify and safely manage hazardous materials to comply with regulations and prevent environmental harm. Designers can also explore options for product take-back and recycling as part of a circular economy strategy. There are various ways of achieving that. Designers can adopt modular design methodologies to enable upgrades and repairs, extending their useful life. Robot system manufacturers should be encouraged to develop strategies for refurbishing and reselling products, promoting reuse over disposal. 



Sustainability is not just an option but an imperative within the realm of engineering. Engineers must find solutions that not only meet technical and economic requirements but also align with environmental, social, and economic sustainability goals. As well as educating students on the broader topics and issues relating to Sustainability, there is a need for teaching considerations at different stages in the robot development lifecycle. Understanding the multifaceted connections between sustainability and engineering disciplines, as well as their impact across various stages of the engineering process, is essential for engineers to meet the challenges of the 21st century responsibly.  



Dias, M. B., Mills-Tettey, G. A., & Nanayakkara, T. (2005, April). Robotics, education, and sustainable development. In Proceedings of the 2005 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (pp. 4248-4253). IEEE. 

Eidenskog, M., Leifler, O., Sefyrin, J., Johnson, E., & Asplund, M. (2023). Changing the world one engineer at a time–unmaking the traditional engineering education when introducing sustainability subjects. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 24(9), 70-84.  

Gutierrez-Bucheli, L., Kidman, G., & Reid, A. (2022). Sustainability in engineering education: A review of learning outcomes. Journal of Cleaner Production, 330, 129734. 

Hristov, I., & Chirico, A. (2019). The role of sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs) in implementing sustainable strategies. Sustainability, 11(20), 5742. 

Karastoyanov, D., & Karastanev, S. (2018). Reuse of Industrial Robots. IFAC-PapersOnLine, 51(30), 44-47. 

Leifler, O., & Dahlin, J. E. (2020). Curriculum integration of sustainability in engineering education–a national study of programme director perspectives. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 21(5), 877-894. 

Raper, R., Boeddinghaus, J., Coeckelbergh, M., Gross, W., Campigotto, P., & Lincoln, C. N. (2022). Sustainability budgets: A practical management and governance method for achieving goal 13 of the sustainable development goals for AI development. Sustainability, 14(7), 4019. 

SDG Indicators — SDG Indicators (2018) United Nations (Accessed: 19 February 2024) 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 


To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Authors: Dr Yujia Zhai (University of Hertfordshire); Associate Professor Scarlett Xiao (University of Hertfordshire). 

Topic: Data security of industrial robots.  

Disciplines: Robotics; Data; Internet of Things. 

Ethical issues: Safety; Health; Privacy; Transparency. 

Professional situations: Rigour; Informed consent; Misuse of data. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study involves an engineer hired to develop and install an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) online machine monitoring system for a manufacturing company. The developments include designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals and setting policies. The project incorporates a variety of ethical components including law and policy, stakeholders, and risk analysis. 

This case study addresses three of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): Design and Innovation (significant technical and intellectual challenges commensurate the level of study), the Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools, and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two and Part three develop and complicate the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to:  


Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

Legal regulations: 

UN agency: 

Educational resource: 

Government sites: 

 Educational institutions: 



IIoT is a new technology that can provide accurate condition monitoring and predict component wear rates to optimise machine performance, thereby improving the machining precision of the workpiece and reducing the production cost.   

Oxconn is a company that produces auto parts. The robotic manipulators and other automation machines on the production line have been developed at considerable cost and investment, and regular production line maintenance is essential to ensure its effective operation. The current maintenance scheme is based on routine check tests which are not reliable and efficient. Therefore Oxconn has decided to install an IIoT-based machine condition monitoring system. To achieve fast responses to any machine operation issues, the machine condition data collected in real time will be transferred to a cloud server for analysis, decision making, and predictive maintenance in the future. 


Dilemma – Part one – Data protection on customers’ machines:

You are a leading engineer who has been hired by Oxconn to take charge of the project on the IIoT-based machine monitoring system, including designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals, setting policies, and getting the system up and running. With your background in robotic engineering and automation, you are expected to act as a technical advisor to Oxconn and liaise with the Facilities, Security, Operation, and Maintenance departments to ensure a smooth deployment. This is the first time you have worked on a project that involves real time data collection. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to do some preliminary research as to what best practices, guidance, and regulations apply. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What are the legal issues relating to machine condition monitoring? Machines’ real-time data allows for the identification of production status in a factory and is therefore considered as commercial data under GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018). Are there rules specifically for IIoT, or are they the same no matter what technology is being used? Should IIoT regulations differ in any way? Why? 

2. Discussion: Sharing data is a legally and ethically complex field. Are there any stakeholders with which the data could be shared? For instance, is it acceptable to share the data with an artificial intelligence research group or with the public? Why, or why not? 

3. Discussion: Under GDPR, individuals must normally consent to their personal data being processed. For machine condition data, how should consent be handled in this case? 

4. Discussion: What ethical codes relate to data security and privacy in an IIoT scenario?  

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity that relates to how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered. 

6. Discussion: Based on your understanding of how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered, consider what additional risks, and what kind of risks (such as financial or operational), Oxconn might incur if depending on an entirely cloud-based system. How might these risks be mitigated from a technical and non-technical perspective? 


Dilemma – Part two – Computer networks security issue brought by online monitoring systems:

The project has kicked off and a senior manager requests that a user interface (UI) be established specifically for the senior management team (SMT). Through this UI, the SMT members can have access to all the real-time data via their computers or mobiles and obtain the analysis result provided by artificial intelligence technology. You realise this has implications on the risk of accessing internal operating systems via the external information interface and networks. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to investigate what platforms can be used and what risk analysis must be taken in implementation. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

The following activities focus on macro-ethics. They address the wider ethical contexts of projects like the industrial data acquisition system. 

1. Activity: Explore different manufacturers and their approaches to safety for both machines and operators. 

2. Activity: Technical integration – Undertake a technical activity related to automation engineering and information engineering. 

3. Activity: Research what happens with the data collected by IIoT. Who can access this data and how can the data analysis module manipulate the data?  

4. Activity: Develop a risk management register, taking considerations of the findings from Activity 3 as well as the aspect of putting in place data security protocols and relevant training for SMT. 

5. Discussion/activity: Use information in the Ethical Risk Assessment guide to help students consider how ethical issues are related to the risks they have just identified. 

6. Discussion: In addition to cost-benefit analysis, how can the ethical factors be considered in designing the data analysis module? 

7. Activity: Debate the appropriateness of installing and using the system for the SMT. 

8. Discussion: What responsibilities do engineers have in developing these technologies? 


Dilemma – Part three – Security breach and legal responsibility: 

At the beginning of operation, the IIoT system with AI algorithms improved the efficiency of production lines by updating the parameters in robot operation and product recipes automatically. Recently, however, the efficiency degradation was observed, and after investigation, there were suspicions that the rules/data in AI algorithms have been subtly changed. Developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers were all brought in to find out what’s going on. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: If there has been an illegal hack of the system, what might be the motive of cyber criminals?   

2. Discussion: What are the impacts on company business? How could the impact of cyber-attacks on businesses be minimised?

3. Discussion: How could threats that come from internal employees, vendors, contractors or partners be prevented?

4. Discussion: When a security breach happens, what are the legal responsibilities for developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers? 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Professor Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE (Heriot Watt University); Johnny Rich (Engineering Professors’ Council); Dr Matthew Studley (University of the West of England, Bristol); Dr Nik Whitehead (University of Wales Trinity Saint David); Dr Darian Meacham (Maastricht University); Professor Mike Bramhall (TEDI-London); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Data security of smart technologies.

Engineering disciplines: Electronics, Data, Mechatronics.

Ethical issues: Autonomy, Dignity, Privacy, Confidentiality.

Professional situations: Communication, Honesty, Transparency, Informed consent.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practise ethical analysis. Ethical analysis is a process whereby ethical issues are defined and affected parties and consequences are identified so that relevant moral principles can be applied to a situation in order to determine possible courses of action.


Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves a software engineer who has discovered a potential data breach in a smart home community. The engineer must decide whether or not to report the breach, and then whether to alert and advise the residents. In doing so, considerations of the relevant legal, ethical, and professional responsibilities need to be weighed. The case also addresses communication in cases of uncertainty as well as macro-ethical concerns related to ubiquitous and interconnected digital technology.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired

Learners will have the opportunity to:

Teachers will have the opportunity to:


Learning and teaching resources:



Smart homes have been called “the road to independent living”. They have the potential to increase the autonomy and safety of older people and people with disabilities. In a smart home, the internet of things (IoT) is coupled with advanced sensors, chatbots and digital assistants. This combination enables residents to be connected with both family members and health and local services, so that if there there are problems, there can be a quick response.

Ferndale is a community of smart homes. It has been developed at considerable cost and investment as a pilot project to demonstrate the potential for better and more affordable care of older people and people with disabilities. The residents have a range of capabilities and all are over the age of 70. Most live alone in their home. Some residents are supported to live independently through: reminders to take their medication; prompts to complete health and fitness exercises; help completing online shopping orders and by detecting falls and trips throughout the house. The continuous assessment of habits, diet and routines allows the technology to build models that may help to predict any future negative health outcomes. These include detecting the onset of dementia or issues related to dietary deficiencies. The functionality of many smart home features depends on a reliable and secure internet connection.


Dilemma – Part one:

You are the software engineer responsible for the integrity of Ferndale’s system. During a routine inspection you discover several indicators suggesting a data breach may have occurred via some of the smart appliances, many of which have cameras and are voice-activated. Through the IoT, these appliances are also connected to Amazon Ring home security products – these ultimately link to Amazon, including supplying financial information and details about purchases.


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Technical analysis – Before the ethical questions can be considered, the students might consider a number of immediate technical questions that will help inform the discussion on ethical issues. A sample data set or similar technical problem could be used for this analysis. For example:

2. Activity: Identify legal and ethical issues. The students should reflect on what might be the immediate ethical concerns of this situation. This could be done in small groups or a larger classroom discussion.

Possible prompts:

3. Activity: Determine the wider ethical context. Students should consider what wider moral issues are raised by this situation. This could be done in small groups or a larger classroom discussion.

Possible prompts:


Dilemma – Part two:

You send an email to Ferndale’s manager about the potential breach, emphasising that the implications are possibly quite serious. She replies immediately, asking that you do not reveal anything to anyone until you are absolutely certain about what has happened. You email back that it may take some time to determine if the software security has been compromised and if so, what the extent of the breach has been. She replies explaining that she doesn’t want to cause a panic if there is nothing to actually worry about and says “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” How do you respond?     


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Professional values – What guidance is given by codes of ethics such as the Royal Academy of Engineering/Engineering Council’s Statement of Ethical Principles or the Association for Computing Machinery Code of Ethics?

2. Activity: Map possible courses of action. The students should think about the possible actions they might take. They can be prompted to articulate different approaches that could be adopted, such as the following, but also develop their own alternative responses.

3. Activity: Hold a debate on which is the best approach and why. The students should interrogate the pros and cons of each possible course of action including the ethical, technical, and financial implications. They should decide on their own preferred course of action and explain why the balance of pros and cons is preferable to other options.

4. Activity: Role-play a conversation between the engineer and the manager, or a conversation between the engineer and a resident.

5. Discussion: consider the following questions:

6. Activity: Change perspectives. Imagine that you are the child of one of Ferndale’s residents and that you get word of the potential data security breach. What would you hope the managers and engineers would do?

7. Activity: Write a proposal on how the system might be improved to stop this happening in the future or to mitigate unavoidable risks. To inform the proposal, the students should also explore the guidance of what might be best practice in this area. For example, in this instance, they may decide on a series of steps.


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