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CROSS funds three projects on responsible innovation

The Collaborative Research on Science and Society (CROSS) program in EPFL’s College of Humanities (CDH) is pleased to announce that it will fund three research projects for the year 2022, all on the theme of responsible innovation.

The CROSS program has awarded the funds to three interdisciplinary projects at EPFL and the University of Lausanne (UNIL) as part of its 2022 edition. Each project will receive up to CHF 60,000, to be divided between the two institutions.

Advances in engineering sciences and technologies oblige us to question whether the realization of certain endeavors – from space exploration to genetic modification – is desirable, though it may be possible. Researchers in each of the successful projects from this year’s CROSS program will examine values such as prosperity, justice, and respect for human beings and for the environment in the context of technological innovations themselves, as well as of the methods used to achieve them.

Through its annual call, the CROSS program provides competitive seed-funding grants for projects proposed by an interdisciplinary group composed of at least one researcher from each of the institutions (EPFL and UNIL); one a specialist in the human and social sciences, and the other a specialist in the life, natural or engineering sciences.

CROSS 2022: Selected projects

Tracing irresponsible innovation through patents: a historical data science investigation

Jérôme BAUDRY, EPFL (CDH, DHI, LHST)
Cédric HUMAIR, UNIL (HIST FL)

Given technology’s role in current global issues, many want to make innovation responsible, for instance through anticipation and reflexivity. Yet the difficulties often seem insurmountable; a challenge that is much older than often recognized. To understand the political, economic and cultural arrangements that facilitate or thwart these attempts, this project proposes to investigate how past innovators displayed concern or indifference for the consequences of their activity − in other words, how the risks of innovation were dealt with in the past.

Focusing on the period between 1870 and 1918, the investigation brings into dialogue historical research and data science by combining the digital analysis of a massive corpus of digitized American and Swiss patents, and the historical investigation, through printed and archival sources, of debates over specific technologies.

Developing responsible models for the deployment of robotics in agricultural systems

Josie HUGHES, EPFL (STI, IGM CREATE lab)
Dominique BARJOLLE, UNIL (IGD FGSE)

This project is on an interdisciplinary approach to identify methods by which robotic technology can be deployed responsibly into agricultural systems. By creating metrics to assess the ethical and socioeconomic indicators, potential gains, and technology-readiness of robotic systems, we will develop a framework for identifying responsible and effective deployment of robotics in agricultural systems. To achieve this, we will first consider the barriers, successes, and ethical issues in a number of case-studies of existing deployments of robotics in agriculture.

To practically demonstrate or instantiate the framework, we will focus on how robotics can be applied to be used in an ‘urban farming’ context. Specifically, we will examine how robotics can be used in local community spaces to assist in the growing, cultivation, and harvesting of produce for the surrounding area. By physically deploying robots, we will be able to practical verify and explore the trade-offs and responsible innovation issues relating to their use for different applications within an urban-farming setup.

From Farm to Fork: The True Cost of Food

Philippe THALMANN, EPFL (ENAC IA, LEUrE)
Céline ROZENBLAT, UNIL (IGD FGSE)

Until today, the food system remains widely neglected despite its massive impacts on climate change, resource use, and health. To develop sustainable business models for the whole food value chain, we aim to assess and implement the true cost of food, from farm to fork. This project aims to address this situation, and shift consumer preferences and agricultural production towards products and practices with lower social and environmental impacts.

We propose to develop and implement a ‘true cost of food’ model by providing two preliminary key components, combined into a systemic solution. First, we will develop a definition of the true-cost framework for Switzerland, identifying the stakeholders’ network, the main business models, regulations, external drivers (e.g., climate change), consumers’ habits, agriculture practices, and the associated social and environmental externalities. Second, we will develop a true cost of food model, measuring and valuing the externalities throughout the value chain for a basket of representative products.