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US politicians move to prevent robots from being given weapons

State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa and State Senator Michael Moore have filed an Act to ensure the responsible use of advanced robotic technologies, legislation that prohibits the manufacture, sale, and operation of robotic devices or drones that are mounted with a weapon.

If passed, this first-in-the-nation legislation will implement common-sense regulations that will protect the public while bringing stability and predictability to an emerging market and its entrepreneurs.

The bill contains three primary provisions related to robots, drones, and other uncrewed robotic devices in Massachusetts: banning the sale and use of weapons-mounted robotic devices, banning the use of robotic devices to threaten or harass, and banning the usage of robotic devices to physically restrain an individual.

Those found in violation of the above provisions will face fines of between $5,000 and $25,000, in addition to any other penalty imposed due to violations of existing laws.

State Rep Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton), says: “Our offices have worked with key stakeholders in developing this legislation, that’s why our bill is supported by leaders in the robotics industry and civil rights organizations.

“Entrepreneurs need the stability of our legislature’s foresight, communities need safety from this fast-moving technology, and above all we have to act to ensure public confidence and safety.

“Robotics can, do, and will shape our economies and our lives for the better, and it is the duty of my colleagues and I to keep our attention on this developing technology.”

Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury), says: “Very often, the pace of innovation moves faster than critical regulation that protects the public.

“I’m pleased to have worked with Representative Sabadosa, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Boston Dynamics, and so many others to get ahead of what can be a very dangerous technology if in the wrong hands.

“This bill puts reasonable guardrails around the use of robots to harass members of the public and bans the weaponization of this technology by those without strict oversight, while also introducing rules for law enforcement to bolster public trust.

“I am hopeful that, if passed, this legislation can serve as a model for responsible robotics regulation in other states and beyond.”

The United States Military and its contractors, law enforcement officials disposing of explosives, and private companies testing anti-weaponization technologies with case-by-case waivers from the Massachusetts Attorney General, are exempt from the penalties created by this bill.

To assure public confidence in law enforcement officials’ use of these technologies, this legislation codifies requirements that a warrant is required when a robot enters private property, except in exigent circumstances.

The bill also requires that information about the usage of advanced robotic technology by law enforcement agencies must be available to the public under Massachusetts public records law.

Kade Crockford, Technology for Liberty program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, says: “Hollywood often paints a vivid picture of a dystopian future filled with robotic violence, but we have the power to ensure those images stay in the realm of fiction.

“Weaponized robots pose an unacceptable threat to our safety and basic rights. We commend Senator Moore and Representative Sabadosa for identifying these potential perils, bringing tech industry leaders and advocates together, and filing this legislation to ensure our laws keep pace with advancing technologies.”

Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and government Relations at Boston Dynamics, says: “Advanced mobile robots are incredible tools that can enrich our lives and keep people safe, but makeshift efforts to weaponize general purpose robots threaten public trust and acceptance of this emerging technology.

“We recently led a consortium of six leading robotics companies calling on policymakers to ensure the ethical use of general purpose robots and prohibit their misuse.

“We are proud to have worked in collaboration with Representative Sabadosa, Senator Moore, civil rights advocates, and robotics industry leaders, to help develop the nation’s first comprehensive legislation on this topic, in our home state of Massachusetts.”

Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics, the largest robotics innovation hub in the United States, says: “The role of robots today is to enhance and improve the lives of humans and this bill will ensure that the positive role that robots play is protected.

“Massachusetts is a global leader in robotics innovation and it only makes sense that we continue to lead by being the first state to adopt this important legislation.

“MassRobotics is proud to support this legislation and we look forward to working with the sponsors and Governor Healey to see it signed into law.”

Michael Robbins, chief advocacy officer at the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), says: “AUVSI is proud to support this legislation, which promotes the safe and ethical use of robotics in the Commonwealth.

“The Act does a great job of promoting the use of advanced robotics in the Commonwealth in a way that will promote public safety and public acceptance, while also preserving the proper carveouts for very specific communities in the DoD and law enforcement to conduct precise missions for national defense and public safety.”

Having been introduced to the Massachusetts House and Senate, An Act to ensure the responsible use of advanced robotic technologies will now be assigned to legislative committees for evaluation and testimony.

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