How to Maximize the Benefits of Robots


The robotics industry has advanced by leaps and bounds. Automation has given us driverless cars, drones used for surveillance by police, wearable technology, and robots in the workplace. Robots are exciting because they could revolutionize our society. But they also raise concerns regarding civil liberties, privacy, and regulation. The explosive growth of the robotics industry has created barriers to further innovation and government officials will need to address these issues in order for society realize the full potential of robotics.

Challenges to Adoption

  • Driverless cars pose serious questions about liability. For instance, if a driverless car causes an accident, is the driver or the manufacturer responsible? Attempting to address these thorny policy issues is complicated because it could delay the benefits of the technology.
  • New laws have focused on the technology of drones rather than the harm of pervasive surveillance itself. It’s not advisable to allow the use of extremely sophisticated surveillance technologies from manned aircraft while also forbidding beneficial uses of drones like accident and crime scene documentation.
  • Private drone users have many concerns about potential regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace from the ground up and has assumed a regulatory role, but there is a debate between whether it is the responsibility of the federal government or states to regulate drones.

Smart Policies for Innovation

  • Legislators should recognize that existing product liability law already provides a good framework for addressing driverless cars.
  • The FAA should avoid strict regulation of drones because of the complexity of the issue and variation in state laws. Instead, the federal government could establish guidelines on local zoning laws, transparency, and data access procedures while giving states autonomy to carry them out.
  • Lawmakers should focus on harms and not technologies. Drones should be treated the same as a helicopter or a person using binoculars on a hill. Technologies like geofencing and auto-redaction could allow drones to protect privacy even better than human surveillance.

The landscape of civilian robotics is constantly changing in the United States. The commercial, law enforcement, and personal use cases for robotics are evolving so quickly that the law has not kept pace. Overcoming these challenges with smart policies will be critical to maximizing the benefits of these groundbreaking innovations. With the integration of civilian robotics in society, it’s possible to decrease the number of auto accidents; help a disabled person learn to walk with new robotic legs; and better investigate crime with police surveillance drones.