Navigating the Politics and Ethics of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • How can and should privacy concerns be addressed in automated systems with respect to law?
  • How can we advise lawmakers and policymakers about risks and ethical considerations of UAVs and the type of data they gather?
  • What factors affect how the public views UAVs?
  • What are some of the unintended consequences of UAV deployment and what can be done to address them (e.g. interference with firefighting efforts)?

These are examples of questions that are addressed by Project Society. With high level of interest in the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for research, government, and commercial purposes, the public desires thorough leadership regarding the political and ethical implications.

Project Society is a collaborative multidisciplinary environment on the CU Boulder campus. It will be a national model for organizing and further developing expertise in the social sciences, humanities, and law for understanding the social, ethical, political and cultural implications of the rapidly growing use of UAVs. The project is aimed at producing both practical outcomes (e.g. policy and legal advice) and theoretical advances (and potentially artistic or literary production) in this area. Unlike other efforts that focus only on the technical aspects of unmanned aerial systems, this project enhances CU’s Grand Challenge by bringing expertise from the social sciences, humanities, and law to complement engineering and the biophysical sciences.

Concretely, the first phase of this project will (1) create opportunities for faculty research on topics related to the socio-political dimensions of UAVs, (2) hold workshops or symposia, and (3) bring speakers to campus to highlight and grow the scholarly community working on all social aspects of UAVs. In the longer term, we expect this to lead to larger grant proposals as well as publications.

Project Society Resources

Learn more about the relevance and quality of academic resources available in the social sciences and humanities through the following annotated bibliographies.
1. UAVs and the Social Sciences
2. UAVs and the Arts

Whenever a new technology arises, we as a society must determine how it will impact our lives. The arts have always been a tool through which we examine the world around us and ask questions about the effects technology has on each of us. The Project Society initiative Unmanned Aircraft Systems and the Arts curates a sampling of work through multiple fields that explore humanity's relationship with drones:
1. Aural
2. Dance
3. Digital Arts
4. Fashion
5. Film
6. Literature
7. Painting
8. Poetry
9. Photography
10. Visual Arts

The proposals for research are allied to the understanding of the social, ethical, political, economic, and cultural implications of the rapidly growing use of drones or Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) and associated remote sensing technology. Learn more about the projects in the Navigating the Politics and Ethics of Drones page.

Learn more about related resources on drones.

Primary Contacts

Lorraine M. Bayard de Volo (Co-leader), Associate Professor and Chair, Women and Gender Studies | lbdv@colorado.edu | 303-492-3206

Emily T. Yeh (Co-leader), Professor and Chair, Department of Geography | emily.yeh@colorado.edu | 303-492-8310

Lorraine M. Bayard de Volo, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include gender, political conflict, and militarization. She has a 2016 article in Politics & Gender: “Unmanned?: Gender Recalibrations and the Rise of Drone Warfare”.

Joe Bryan, Associate Professor and Director, Development Studies Certificate Program in the Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include issues of imperialism, counterinsurgency, and cartography through his work with indigenous peoples in Latin America. He is the author with Denis Wood of “Weaponizing Maps: Indigenous Peoples and Counterinsurgency in the Americas” (Guilford Press 2015).

Emma Collins, Master's Student of Communication, University of Colorado Boulder

Jill Dupré, Associate Director and Industry Partnerships Director, ATLAS, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include interdisciplinary creativity and legal issues surrounding digital content (particularly privacy and intellectual property law issues).

Michelle Ellsworth, Professor of Dance, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include performance art that incorporates issues of surveillance, incarceration, and identity. A Doris Duke Impact Award grantee, Michelle was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2016.

Hunter Ewen, Instructor, Critical Media Practices, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include digital creativity, composition of dramatic music, education, and multimedia design. His recent project utilizes drone-based audio recording and processing equipments to produce soundscapes.

Jennifer Fluri, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include conflict, security, and development in South and Southwest Asia, with a focus on gendered geographies of security and violence. She is the author with Rachel Lehr of the forthcoming book, "The Carpetbaggers of Kabul and Other American-Afghan Entanglements" (University of Georgia Press 2017).

Mara Goldman, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include political ecology methodologies of researching empowerment, access to resources, indigenous knowledges, decision-making processes, and the politics of participation and conservation.

Tara Grillos, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest sustainable development, collective action, natural resource dilemmas, and participatory processes.

Najeeb Jan, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include biopolitics and political Islam, particularly in Pakistan.

Rebecca Rice, PhD Student of Communication, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include high security organizations, surveillance, gender, and rhetoric​.

Harry Surden, Associate Professor, Law School, University of Colorado Law School
Areas of interest include intellectual property law with a substantive focus on patents and copyright, information privacy law, legal informatics and legal automation, and the application of computer technology within the legal system. 

Emily T. Yeh, Professor and Chair, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Areas of interest include questions of power, political economy and cultural politics in the nature-society relationship. She is the author of "Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development" (Cornell University Press 2013). Her specific interest with Project Society is in the use of UAVs in conservation.