Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Robotics and the Law

  Natalie Leesakul (2018 cohort)   www.linkedin.com/in/natalieleesakul

In Industry 4.0 smart machines are digitally connected with one another – sharing information and making autonomous decisions. This new wave of industrial revolution is expected to enable organizations to strengthen their competitive advantage by fundamentally reconfiguring the business operations in order to improve productivity, reduce risks, and increase product quality [1]. Therefore, Industry 4.0 is becoming a popular research topic in both academic and business arenas. However, Industry 4.0 is a rather broad concept with multiple layers incorporated into the movement. Given the interest of my industry partner, DigiTOP, I am motivated to look into the use of robotics in digital manufacturing.

Robotics has been introduced to manufacturing since 1961 [2]. However, traditional industrial robots are kept behind barriers with strict policies on the safety protocols, such as, sensors and systems to prevent people from being in close proximity to the robot while it’s working and to ensure that the robot automatically stops when people are within certain range. Collaborative robots (“cobots”), on the other hand, are deployed to work alongside humans which raises prominent concerns beyond current industrial robot safety standards. For example, isolating the robot in a cage with multiple sensors as a form of safety measure is no longer applicable. The safety challenges with cobots cannot be overcome by simply installing a standard movement detection; there is a need for safety standards in decision-making criteria programmed into robots. Because cobots learn from human workers, the system must enable robots to distinguish desirable behaviours from harmful behaviours so that a robot can only replicate the appropriate human gestures. Consequently, the interactions between cobots and humans also create the norms of endless personal data collection and processing which can challenge the principle of privacy. Therefore, the on-going debate in this field is whether there is a lack of adequate regulation and a need for drafting new regulation specifically for robotics or the current regulation is sufficient enough [3]. As a result, this PhD aims to investigate the regulatory challenges posed by cobots and explore the gap between “law in the book” and “law in action” within the context of cobots in digital manufacturing. The goal is to bridge the gap by designing a legal digital toolkit driven by interactions between humans and robots. Ultimately, it is mandate for end users, technologists, and law enforcers to collaborate in order to effectively tackle regulatory challenges [4]. Thus, this PhD will be a socio-legal research with a combination of doctrinal research and human-computer interaction research to understand the current legal frameworks and the pressing legal concerns from the public and the industry within the context of cobots.

[1]Md. Abdul Moktadira and others, ‘Assessing challenges for implementing Industry 4.0: Implications for process safety and environmental protection’ (2018) 117 Process Safety and Environmental Protection 730

[2]Johanna Wallén, ‘The History of the Industrial Robot’ (2008) Linköping University Electronic Press 18, 13

[3]F. Patrick Hubbard, ‘SOPHISTICATED ROBOTS": BALANCING LIABILITY, REGULATION, AND INNOVATION’ (2014) 66(5) Florider Law Review 1803

[4]Lachlan Urquhart and Tom Rodden, ‘New directions in information technology law: learning from human–computer interaction’ (2017) 31(2) International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 150

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and DigitTOP.