Category Archives: Robots

I’m on the Drone Law Today Podcast

DroneLawTodayToday’s Drone Law Today guest is … me.

Professor Froomkin Talks Drone Law

Hello, Drone Law Nation! In this episode, we speak to Professor Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami School of Law. Professor Froomkin is a leading scholar on “drone law” and robotics. He is also the founder and chair of the We Robot academic conference.

We Robot will be hosted by Miami Law in April, 2016. The call for papers is out! Head over to the We Robot site for attendance information and for more on how to apply to be a speaker or presenter.

Listen in to hear Professor Froomkin’s take on federal and state drone law, self-defense against robots and drones, federal preemption, and a whole lot more.

You can hear the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher.

Update: Thanks to Steve Hogan, the host of Drone Law Today, here are links to a direct download mp3 and to the Libsyn site with the show notes and embedded player for those of us on Android and PC without iTunes or Sticher.

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We Robot 2016 Call for Papers & Participation

We Robot 2016We invite submissions for We Robot 2016 to be held in Coral Gables, Florida on April 1-2, 2016 at the University of Miami School of Law. We Robot–the premier US conference on law and policy relating to Robotics that began at the University of Miami School of Law in 2012, and has since been held at Stanford and University of Washington–returns to Miami Law April 1st-2nd in 2016. Attendees include lawyers, engineers, philosophers, robot builders, ethicists, and regulators who are on the front lines of robot theory, design, or development. The main conference will be preceded by a day of special workshops (see below). The conference web site is

We Robot 2016 seeks contributions by academics, practitioners, and others in the form of scholarly papers or demonstrations of technology or other projects. We Robot fosters conversations between the people designing, building, deploying and using robots, and the people who design or influence the legal and social structures in which robots will operate. We particularly encourage contributions resulting from interdisciplinary collaborations, such as those between legal, ethical, economics, or policy scholars and roboticists.

This conference will build on the growing body of scholarship that explores the increasing sophistication and decision-making capabilities of robots, in collaboration with humans and autonomously, and the increasingly widespread deployment of robots everywhere from the home, to hospitals, to public spaces, to the battlefield. All of this disrupts existing legal regimes or requires rethinking of various policy issues. This year the program committee is especially interested in papers that discuss issues relating to the deployment of robots in positions that put them in direct contact with people, but as always we remain open to cutting-edge works on any topics fitting within our larger mission. Surprise us. Educate us. We’re listening.

This year’s conference will involve several types of presentations and events. We Robot is organized as a primarily single-track event. Thus, although each type of presentation has its own “track” for submission and evaluation, the actual conference will consist of a mix of each of the following sequentially rather than simultaneously:

1. Scholarly Papers. Topics of interest for the scholarly paper portion of the conference include but are not limited to:

  • The impact of robots on the jobs, the economy, and the workforce.
  • Comparative perspectives on the regulation of robotic technologies.
  • Assessment of what institutional configurations, if any, would best serve to integrate robotics into society responsibly.
  • Effects of employment of autonomous weapons in the military or law enforcement contexts.
  • Regulatory issues raised by the deployment of robotics, including in medicine, in the air (drones), and on the roads (autonomous cars).
  • The impact of human enhancement via robot components, and the need for policy, legal and regulatory structures that address these developing technologies and resulting ethical and social issues.
  • The impact of artificial intelligence on civil liberties, including sexuality, equal protection, privacy, suffrage, and procreation. Standardization issues, especially as they relate to issues arising from related disciplines such as ethics, psychology, or law.

These are only examples of relevant topics. We are very interested in papers on all topics driven by actual or probable robot deployments. The purpose of this conference is to drive a research agenda relating to the deployment of robots in society, to inform policy-makers of the issues, and to help design legal rules that will maximize opportunities and minimize risks arising from the increased deployment of robots in society.

How to Submit Your Proposal for a paper. Please send a 1-3 page abstract outlining your proposed paper, and a C.V. of the author(s) via the conferencing system at Please do NOT put any author identifying information on the proposal itself, as we have moved to a system of anonymous reviews this year. Please be sure to choose the “paper” track for your upload. Submissions open October 1 and are due by November 1, 2015.

2. Discussants. We also invite expressions of interest from potential discussants. At We Robot, authors do not present their own papers. Every paper accepted will be assigned a discussant whose job it will be to present and comment. These presentations are very brief (no more than 10 minutes) but they are a critical part of the conference. Authors will then respond briefly (no more than 5 minutes). The rest of the session will consist of a group discussion about the paper moderated by the discussant.

How to indicate your willingness to be a discussant. Please send a short note telling us why you are interested and your C.V. via the conferencing system at Please be sure to choose the “discussant” track for your upload. Submissions open October 1 and are due by November 1, 2015.

3. Demonstrations. Unlike scholarly papers, proposals for demonstrations may be purely descriptive and designer/builders will be asked to present their work themselves. We’d like to hear about your latest innovations, what’s on the drawing board for the next generations of robots as well, or legal and policy issues you have encountered in the design or deploy process. Bring your robot if you can!

How to pitch a demo. Please send description of what you have or are doing, with links to any relevant photos or audio visual information, as well as your C.V., via the We Robot 2016 online conferencing system at Please be sure to choose the “Demo” track for your upload. Please include a brief description of what facilities and resources your demonstration might require (e.g., power, internet connection, space). Submissions open October 1 and are due by November 1, 2015.

4. Poster Session. We Robot will have our first-ever poster session this year in order to accommodate late-breaking and cutting edge projects. This session is ideal for researchers to get feedback on a work in progress. At least one of the authors of each accepted poster should plan to be present at the poster during the entire poster session on the afternoon of April 1, 2016 and for a “lightning round” of one-minute presentations during the main session. We believe this Late Breaking Results Poster Session will be a great addition to We Robot and we strongly encourage you to submit your interesting new work to this session.

How to propose a poster session. Please send an up to 400 word description of what you have or are doing, with links to any relevant photos or audio visual information, as well as your C.V. via the conferencing system at Please be sure to choose the “Posters” track for your upload. Submissions open January 15, 2016 and are due by March 8, 2016. We’ll accept poster proposals on a rolling basis. Remember, at least one author of an accepted poster must register at the conference to submit the final version.

5. Special Workshop Sessions. On March 31, We Robot will host four workshops designed by experts to help people from other disciplines get up to speed in their specialty. We hope these workshops will be attended by people who want to learn about the topics, and by people willing to share their expertise with both experts and neophytes.

  • Juris Machina: Legal Aspects of Robotics, organized by Woody Hartzog
  • Electronic Love, Trust, & Abuse: Social Aspects of Robotics, organized by Kate Darling
  • “The Robot Revolution has been Rescheduled (until we can debug the sensors)”: Technical Aspects of Robotics, organized by Bill Smart
  • Funding the Future: Financial Aspects of Robotics, organized by Dan Siciliano

How to participate in a workshop. All that is required is to sign up when registration opens October 1, 2015, and before it closes in late March 2016. The sessions will be held consecutively, so you can attend one or all.


As noted above, proposals for papers, discussants, and demos will be accepted at starting October 1, 2015 and are due by November 1, 2015. See for further information. We anticipate having responses by December 4, 2015. Full papers will due by March 1, 2016. Authors retain full copyright but they grant us permission to post the paper on line at the conference web site and to distribute copies.

Proposals for the poster session open January 15, 2016 and are due by March 8, 2016.

Registration for We Robot 2016 will open October 1, 2015. Look for the early bird registration rate.

Funding for Participants

We anticipate paying reasonable round-trip domestic coach airfare and providing up to two nights hotel accommodation for one presenter per paper and demo, and also for discussants. For speakers based outside North America we will provide up to $750 towards the cost of your international airfare, plus we will provide two nights hotel accommodation. We are seeking funding sources to contribute to the expenses of poster session presenters, and to provide scholarships for graduate students, so please watch our web page for more information.

Printable .pdf version of We Robot 2016 Call for Papers

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Drone Shooting in the News

Looks like my article, Self-Defense Against Robots and Drones (written with Zak Colangelo) isn’t a minute too early. ArsTechnica reports Man shoots downs neighbor’s hexacopter in rural drone shotgun battle.

The parties in Joe v McBay differ as to where the drone actually was when it got shot. Plaintiff says it was on his land, defendant says the GPS data shows it wasn’t. The Judge from the Stanislaus County Court Small Claims Division didn’t care:

Court finds that Mr. McBay acted unreasonably in having his son shoot the drone down regardless of whether it was over his property or not

We don’t agree in our article that the drone’s location is irrelevant. If the drone was not on the defendant-shooter’s land, then he ought to be liable for the damages. But whether he should be liable if the drone was trespassing is a surprisingly complicated question that we address at some length in our article. It depends in large part on what the shooter reasonably thought the drone was doing, and whether the act of shooting the weapon, or any subsequent drone crash, would put anyone else at risk.

Basically, in an urban area it will almost never be reasonable to shoot down even a trespassing drone unless it clearly threatens physical harm to a person or perhaps very major property damage. In a rural area where the dangers of errant shots and crashing drones may be much less, many other factors come into the calculus of reasonableness, including whether it reasonably appears that the drone may be on a spying run, and how valuable the drone looks.

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The Rise of Robot Governance

With R2D2's Creatornet.wars: Multiplicity has the best write-up of We Robot 2015 that I’ve seen yet.

My favorite quote:

[David] Post led the discussion to broader questions: if you’re going to intervene in the development of new norms and law, when do you do it? How do you do it while remaining flexible enough to allow the technology to develop? Particularly with respect to privacy and teens’ willingness to share information in a way that scares their elders, “Could we have had that conversation in 1983?”

This is the heart of We Robot: the co-chairs, Michael Froomkin and Ryan Calo run the conference precisely to try to get ahead of prospective conflicts. So Froomkin’s answer to Post’s question was to note that being “in the room” matters. Had “just one lawyer” been present when engineers were creating the domain name system its design could have been different because that lawyer would have spotted the issues we have been grappling with ever since. “People with different backgrounds and perspectives spot problems,” he said, “and also solutions.” And, he added, those changes are easier at the beginning, when there’s less deployment and less money invested.

And yes, as I said at the conference, one of the main things I’ve learned from 15+ years of Internet policy research is that ‘Who is in the room’ when decisions are made is about as important as anything else.

(The photo is of Tony Dyson, the designer of the original R2D2 (top left), and two other happy happy conference-goers.)

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We Robot 2016 Official Logo


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Save the Dates: Next We Robot April 1-2, 2016

We Robot 2016 Small sizeIt seems to get better every year.

But we’ll have a tough act to follow after the success of the 2015 edition!

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We Robot!

cropped-werobot-webheaderI’m at We Robot 2015, aka the 4th Annual Conference on Robotics, Law & Policy at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, WA.

There’s a tremendous list of papers, and tonight we have a special presentation from Tony Dyson — the man who built R2-D2 for “Star Wars,” oversaw special effects for “The Empire Strikes Back” and builds robots for the world’s largest electronics companies.

It’s going to be great.

Plus, mark your calendar for next year: We Robot 2016 will be back at the University of Miami on April 1 & 2, 2016.

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