Planon: What if robots break something during maintenance?

Imagine that you’ve deployed a robot to carry out a maintenance job on a property or to a piece of equipment inside the property, and the robot breaks something during its work. Who will be liable? It’s an emerging question now that robots are being deployed professionally with increasing frequency.

Whereas the debate so far has been mainly around the dangers inherent in artificial intelligence, thus keeping things hypothetical and speculative, the discussions now increasingly turn to the concrete risks related to the use of robots. Who will be held liable if a robot breaks something while performing its tasks?

The opportunities and risks of maintenance by robots

Even Google is weighing into this discussion, and is sweeping the debate along with a cleaning robot as an example. In the paper “Concrete Problems in AI Safety” [PDF], Google’s research team raises five practical problems:

  1. What if a cleaning robot does indeed perform its duties, but knocks over a vase in doing so?
  2. What if a robot chooses getting a reward above performing its task, for example by not clearing up a small pile of rubbish but by covering it?
  3. What if a robot repeatedly keeps asking for the same instructions and does not adapt its duties according to the human instructions?
  4. What if robots are not careful enough, and they insert a wet mop into an electrical socket, for instance?
  5. What if robots don’t adapt to the environment if it is just a little different to the one for which they were trained?

Who will be liable?

The more duties robots can perform, the more issues like these will come to the fore. At the same time, robots are increasingly going to work more autonomously, which has its own implications in terms of legal liability. That’s because as things stand at the moment, only an actual person can perform a punishable offence. In the debate on self-driving cars, the outcome appears to be that liability can also be established for the owner or driver, just as it can in the case of damage by animals, for example. What does this mean for robots who perform maintenance or cleaning?

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IEEE: IoT development kits overshadow kits of old

There are a myriad of sensor-laden kits hitting the shelf that will help you create wearables, immersive gaming, augmented reality, 3-D mapping—virtually all IoT-targeted designs. If you’re looking to improve power consumption (and who isn’t?), or make your designs painfully smaller, rest assured that there are comprehensive kits that will help you cut through the IoT’s considerable complexity…

Another example includes IoT starter kits announced at Embedded World 2016 by Farnell’s element 14. Dubbed Entrepreneur and Enterprise, the kits target the development of flexible, cost-effective and intelligent building products for hospitals, homes and more. The Entrepreneur kit features EnOcean sensors and Raspberry Pi and EnOcean Pi boards. In addition, it provides access to IBM’s Watson IoT Platform and Bluemix services. In comparison, Enterprise includes EnOcean OEM self-powered sensors and EnOcean Gateway combined with access to IBM’s Watson IoT Platform and IBM TRIRIGA facilities management program…

Intel also just unveiled the latest version of its IoT starter kit for IoT, Developer Kit 3.0, that includes support for a variety of sensors. It also enables devices to connect to IBM‘s Bluemix cloud platform. Thanks to this integration, developers also can take advantage of Watson application programming interfaces for analytics, speech and image recognition. IoT will be the primary development tool for Intel’s recently announced Robotics Development Kit that includes a developer board with an Atom processor and a RealSense 3-D camera…

The Avnet MicroZed Industrial IoT Starter Kit is an easy-to-use, out-of-the-box system that accesses solutions from IBM, Wind River and Xilinx. The MicroZed Industrial IoT Starter Kit enables edge-to-cloud development of Internet-connected solutions and includes building blocks for developing a production-ready, IoT-enabled, industrial processing system. The platform is based on Avnet’s MicroZed system-on-module with a Zynq-7000 All Programmable SoC from Xilinx and pluggable sensor solutions from Maxim Integrated and STMicroelectronics. It integrates IBM’s Watson IoT Platform agent on a custom-configured, certified image of Wind River’s Pulsar Linux OS. IBM’s Watson IoT Platform agent enables registered, secure connection to the Watson IoT Platform and additional cloud services and applications from the IBM Bluemix portfolio…

[Admin: This post is related to the 02.24.16 post about Farnell element14 IoT starter kits that tap into IBM technology.]

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