Considerations of a Legal Framework for the Safe and Resilient Operation of Autonomous Aerial Robots
Cameron R. Cloar and Donna A. Dulo
Autonomous aerial robots, also known as drones, will be a major segment of the National Airspace System in the near future. The extent of innovation of aerial robotic systems is seemingly limitless. Yet, within this futuristic vision emerges an essential issue that cannot be ignored: safety. Many aerial systems will operate under mostly human control; however, some segments of operation will undoubtedly be done autonomously. Although the number of these systems under design and manufacture for the market is quickly increasing, a unified set of legal rules is notably absent to ensure autonomous operations are performed safely and with a high degree of resilience. These legal rules must account for many factors such as the underlying software, algorithms and mathematics that drive the robotic systems, the interface between the robotic systems and potential human operators, if any, the interface between the robotic system and the collision avoidance system, as well as all inherent onboard authority systems.
This paper develops a legal framework which will present a unified foundation so that legal rules can be developed which will serve as the basis for the development and operation of autonomous aerial robots. The legal framework will ensure that designers and manufacturers have the freedom of invention and innovation while having a defined set of rules with which to develop their aerial robotic systems to ensure safe, resilient autonomous and semi-autonomous operations in the national airspace. While being initially developed for autonomous aerial robots, the legal framework will be readily adaptable to unmanned underwater robots, self-driving land vehicles, and any type of robotic vehicle that has varying degrees of autonomous capabilities. It will also call upon the regulatory framework for aircraft under the Federal Aviation Regulations, with a particular emphasis on the new consensus-driven standards that are envisioned will reshape the design and certification of small aircraft. The legal framework help will ensure that unmanned aerial robots become the safe and resilient transformative innovations that they are destined to be.