Trustworthy autonomous systems for all?

News | Posted on Tuesday 13 June 2023

Researchers at the Universities of York and Sheffield worked with disabled young people to reimagine autonomous systems so they can enhance the lives of everyone.

Young people, researchers, and a humanoid robot

Autonomous systems that can be trusted to take action with little or no human interaction have the potential to improve our lives in many ways: improved diagnosis on 999 calls, support in our homes, and easier inspection of hazardous environments. But whose lives will they really improve if their design isn’t inclusive?

“The design of trustworthy autonomous systems isn’t currently equitable or participatory,” said Dr Colin Paterson, Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of York and one of the project’s co-investigators. “This means that these systems which are meant to positively impact all of our lives are being designed without the involvement of those people who will be the end users.”


Social and computer science researchers from the universities worked with nine students from Greenace Special School in Sheffield as co-researchers. During creative workshops they explored how young people could become co-designers and co-producers of trustworthy autonomous systems, to help make them truly beneficial to all.

The co-researchers talked about the trust element of trustworthy autonomous systems, considering who is involved in the design of systems, whether the systems can be trusted, and whether users are trusted to have a say in the design process. 

The team also questioned some of the assumptions made by designers of autonomous systems to consider what would make them desirable and important to all users, including young people and those with disabilities.

Research into practice

The students were then involved in Makerspace workshops at their school. Turning their research into practice, they designed and made their own robots and technology that represent what is important to them.

The final part of the project gave the students an opportunity to visit the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield. They got to see robots in action and take part in activities to better understand how AI learns and discuss the challenges of making AI safe.

“This project enabled young people to become researchers, designers and makers of autonomous systems,” concluded Dr Paterson. “What is important to them as end users helped shape the design of the prototypes they created.

“The young people questioned our assumptions as researchers, designers and scientists which helped us to come away with an increased understanding of how to create more inclusive autonomous systems.”

Find out more

Reimagining TAS with Young People from Nifty Fox Creative on Vimeo.