Hard Hitting Robots (Not) — and Standards

By on October 24th, 2014 in Blog Posts, Robotics

ISO is developing standards for the contact between collaborative robots and humans working in close proximity.  Which raises a question of how hard a robot can hit you, legally. Of course this also raises concerns in industry about liability, work-place-safety legislation etc.

There is nothing new here in reality.  Humans have been working in collaborative environments with machines, animals and even other humans. In the U.S. some of the first workplace limitations were actually triggered by animal cruelty legislation applied to child labor. And of course as our experience has increased with different types of equipment, so have the sophistication of work-place protections.   Industry leaders working in these areas should be pro-active in helping to set standards, both to have a voice in the process, and to protect workers.  Well considered standards provide protection for employers as well as workers.  Of course when insufficient diversity of perspectives establish the standards, they can end up with an imbalance.

Diversity in standards participation is needed to address robots and workplace interactions

In my own experience, which involved significant work with standards (POSIX at IEEE and ISO levels) industry is wise to invest in getting a good set of standards in place, and users/consumers are often under-represented.  IEEE and IETF are two places where technologists can participate as individuals, which provides a better diversity in my experience. ISO operates as “countries”, with some countries under the lead of corporate interests, others academic, some government agencies. In general I suspect we get better standards out of the diversity possible from forums like IEEE — but with industry hesitant to fund participation by individual technologists, these forums may lack sufficient resources.

One of these days, you may get a pat on the back from a robot near you. Perhaps even for work well done in the standards process.