Legal Frameworks

As part of a national roadmap for the adoption of robotic technologies in Australia, Australian policy-makers need to develop a well-adapted regulatory framework for robotics at a federal, state, and territory level. In-depth interviews as part of the roadmap’s national consultation process suggest that government and industry regulatory and compliance laws are a barrier to the development of a robotics industry in Australia. New technologies (automated construction, drones, and similar) are received well by, and would often benefit, companies operating in Australia, but their uptake is hindered by government and industry regulations designed for other purposes. For instance, a surveying company may want to use a drone for onsite surveillance, but they are hindered by airspace regulations.

While there have been parliamentary inquiries on the implementation of some robotic technologies (for example, autonomous vehicles [APH17]), there needs to be a more systematic effort to develop a co-ordinated national response on the regulation of robotics. This will both enhance Australia’s prospects and opportunities in the field, establish public trust and community acceptance, and deal with risk and liability in an appropriate fashion. The Australian Productivity Commission could play a useful investigatory role in respect of providing expert advice on the adoption of robotic technologies. Australia needs to develop laws in respect of robotics, which are adaptable, efficient, effective, and accountable.

In the United States, lawyers and scholars have sought to develop a larger jurisprudence in respect of robotics law and policy. This framework has sought to engage in the legal classification of robotics, and bring together a wide range of fields of regulation – including intellectual property law; privacy law; employment law and occupational health and safety; liability; crime and justice; and military law.

The European Parliament issued a resolution in 2017 on robotics law and ethics [EU17]. As well as articulating general principles, the resolution focuses upon research and innovation, education and training, liability, intellectual property, data, standardisation, security, and safety. Moreover, the resolution has a special focus upon autonomous means of transportation – looking at autonomous vehicles and drones. The resolution also notes some special considerations associated with public health care robots, medical robots, and human repair and enhancement. The resolution discusses larger issues about environmental impact. The European Parliament has also made suggestions in terms of developing codes of ethics for the inventors and users of robots. There is a strong focus upon the protection of fundamental human rights in the resolution.

At an international level, there have been several developments in respect of robotics law and policy. A recent 2015 World Intellectual Property Organization report highlights the competition in respect of patents in this field. If Australia is going to be competitive in the field of robotics, it needs to provide for good pathways for research, development, and commercialisation of intellectual property in the area (see Section 2.3).