Ethical Robot Systems

Lecturer (assistant)
  • Johannes Betz [L]
Duration2 SWS
TermSommersemester 2024
Language of instructionEnglish
Position within curriculaSee TUMonline
DatesSee TUMonline

Admission information

See TUMonline
Note: None


After participating in the module, students will have a deep insight into the fundamental contexts of machine ethics with particular application to robotic systems. After the lecture, students can understand and explain the basic concepts and challenges at the interface of ethics and robotics. This enables students to apply and critically analyze ethical theories to real-world problems and case studies in robotics. Furthermore, students can continuously reflect on the methods and knowledge they have learned about sustainable ecological, social, and economic development. After the lecture, students will be able to design and evaluate ethical decision-making processes for developing and implementing robot technologies. In addition, students will be able to identify and discuss future technological developments in robotics and their potential ethical challenges. One focus here is the inclusion of context-dependent and individual perceptions of sustainability. As the module is open to different disciplines and raises transdisciplinary questions, students can understand the language of others, justify their own decisions, and convince others with arguments in teams from their discipline and interdisciplinary teams.


The lecture "Ethical Robot Systems" provides a comprehensive overview of the intersection of ethics and robotics. This field is becoming increasingly important as robots and artificial intelligence (AI) permeate more and more areas of our lives. In this course, students will learn the fundamental concepts of robotics and ethics, focusing on the challenges of integrating ethical principles into developing and using robotic technologies. Students will explore the moral issues raised by autonomous systems, data protection, surveillance, the impact of robotics on the world of work, human-robot interactions, and issues of responsibility and liability. In the lecture, students develop the ability to apply ethical theories to concrete problems, design and evaluate ethical decision-making processes for technological developments, and analyze the long-term impact of robotic technologies on society and individual lifestyles. In a focussed part of the lecture "Ethical Robot Systems", students are confronted with the ethical challenges in software development and AI, especially about bias and moral decision-making. They deal with the emergence of bias through faulty data or algorithms and learn methods to recognize and minimize it. The discussion also includes how ethical principles such as fairness, transparency, and responsibility can be integrated into the development of AI systems. The goal is to prepare students to create ethically responsible technologies that enhance user trust and promote socially positive impact. Through discussion of case studies and current research, students will be encouraged to think about and critically reflect on the social and ethical implications of advancing technologies. The course also addresses how ethical considerations can be integrated into the development process of robotics and AI to create technologies that respect societal values and norms.


The basics of robotics are recommended as prerequisites, but are not absolutely necessary to understand the content.

Teaching and learning methods

In the lecture, the course content is conveyed by means of a lecture and presentation (Power Point). More complex issues are derived and illustrated using a tablet PC. During the lecture, explicit questions are asked that require students to transfer their knowledge and where students are allowed to speak up and discuss a possible solution. In this way, the challenging tasks of robotics will be deepened, and the transfer to various robot applications (e.g., robots in agriculture) will be achieved. Simple but critical situational examples that have to be solved by robots are also explained in the lecture. The students can actively solve these example tasks. These examples are primarily with mobile ground robots (e.g., autonomous cars at road intersections in the city center), which enables students to subsequently analyze and evaluate further problems of other autonomous systems (e.g., robots in agriculture). A weekly consultation hour is offered to answer questions about the individual appointments and homework, which can be attended in person or online (appointment announced via Moodle).


The module examination takes the form of a written exam (duration 60 min, permitted aids: calculator). The basics of ethics in robotics are tested on the basis of short questions. Using comprehension questions and transfer questions, the participants show, for example, that they have understood the individual ethical issues, can analyse real measurement data and can analyse the ethical behaviour of robots.

Recommended literature

Pendleton et. al, Perception, Planning, Control, and Coordination for Autonomous Vehicles, Machines 2017, 5(1), 6; Book: "Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics" by Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, and George A. Bekey Book: "Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong" by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen Paper: "Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics" by Vincent C. Müller in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy