Open Robotics

Innovation and Economic Growth and Open Source

Article Snapshot


M. Ryan Calo


Maryland Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 3, 2011


U.S. should make modest legal interventions to ensure the personal robotics industry is open to third-party innovation.

Policy Relevance

Congress should shield manufacturers and distributors of open robotic platforms from suit for what consumers do with their personal robots, while still allowing litigation against robot software developers and reckless end users. A small-scale market for individual robot insurance could be created, with rates and premiums calibrated to the robot’s capacity to cause harm.

Main Points

  • The U.S. personal robotics industry could become a closed, proprietary robotics that will move at the pace that robotics companies set, or it could become an open robotics that moves at faster pace with an accompanying market of third party software, components and accessories.

  • Open robotics could lead to rapid innovation and adoption within the personal robotics sector, like open computers boosted the success of the personal computing industry.

  • Open robotics means that robots have modular hardware design, which would allow swapping of parts; they accept third-party software to run on them; and they lack a set function.

  • Open robots combine, arguably for the first time, an invitation to third party innovation with the capacity to cause physical injury and damage directly, meaning there could be more—and more successful—litigation around robot-caused injuries.

  • The current potential for legal liability for robot-caused harm may lead entrepreneurs and investors to favor closed robot systems over open ones, and place the U.S. behind other countries in robotics development.

  • In an open robotics system, under current U.S. law, robot manufacturers and developers may face liability for robot-caused harm, and this may chill investment in the robotics market.

  • If Congress grants narrow immunity to personal robots manufacturers from robot-caused injuries that result from what consumers do with their robots, this will encourage the growth of an open robotics industry in the U.S., as it did with the Internet industry.

  • If liability falls on consumers for robot-caused injury, a robot insurance market may help ensure that victims will be compensated for injuries.

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