The billion-dollar robot question — how can we make sure they’re safe?

“This is the most essential question of the whole matter,” said Andre Platzer, who researches car, aircraft and robotic safety at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s a very difficult question, how you can know for sure that the system itself is actually really safe.” The emerging presence of robotics is happening in a wide range of disparate fields, so these innovations are largely falling into a regulatory black hole, challenging the way our society is set up to evaluate safety. For example, should driverless cars be regulated by state DMVs or the U.S. Department of Transportation — both of which lack deep knowledge of robotics? What about military robots — should the United Nations develop rules or should each government go its own way? Some are calling for a new government agency in the United States — kind of like a NASA for robots — because traditional agencies lack expertise in the rapidly emerging field.