Encoding the Enforcement of Safety Standards into Smart Robots to Harness Their Computing Sophistication and Collaborative Potential: A Legal Risk Assessment for European Union Policymakers

Riccardo Vecellio Segate (Lead / Corresponding author), Angela Daly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Until robots and humans mostly worked in fast-paced and yet separate environments, occupational health and safety (OHS) rules could address workers’ safety largely independently from robotic conduct. This is no longer the case: collaborative robots (cobots) working alongside humans warrant the design of policies ensuring the safety of both humans and robots at once, within shared spaces and upon delivery of cooperative workflows. Within the European Union (EU), the applicable regulatory framework stands at the intersection between international industry standards and legislation at the EU as well as Member State level. Not only do current standards and laws fail to satisfactorily attend to the physical and mental health challenges prompted by human–robot interaction (HRI), but they exhibit important gaps in relation to smart cobots (“SmaCobs”) more specifically. In fact, SmaCobs combine the black-box unforeseeability afforded by machine learning with more general HRI-associated risks, towards increasingly complex, mobile and interconnected operational interfaces and production chains. Against this backdrop, based on productivity and health motivations, we urge the encoding of the enforcement of OHS policies directly into SmaCobs. First, SmaCobs could harness the sophistication of quantum computing to adapt a tangled normative architecture in a responsive manner to the contingent needs of each situation. Second, entrusting them with OHS enforcement vis-à-vis both themselves and humans may paradoxically prove safer as well as more cost-effective than for humans to do so. This scenario raises profound legal, ethical and somewhat philosophical concerns around SmaCobs’ legal personality, the apportionment of liability and algorithmic explainability. The first systematic proposal to tackle such questions is henceforth formulated. For the EU, we propose that this is achieved through a new binding OHS Regulation aimed at the SmaCobs age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-40
Number of pages40
JournalEuropean Journal of Risk Regulation
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • Encoding of safety rules enforcement
  • quantum computing
  • smart collaborative robots

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