IL lawmakers figuring out rules for robot assistants

Regulating person robots in IL

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Up in Springfield, Illinois lawmakers are racking their brains about a newer field of legislation. That is how to regulate personal robotic assistants.

A bill recently passed unanimously in the state House that is trying to figure out how to regulate this kind of technology.

A driver for this legislation to be figured out, is a prototype being designed by Piaggio called the Gita.

According to the company website, the Gita is a small personal robot that is meant to carry around up to 44 pounds of your stuff for you.

The user wears a special belt that allows the machine to track movement and figure out the best route to take to follow you. Small cameras help it avoid hazardous situations and obstacles.

However, while it sounds really cool, lawmakers are trying to figure out how to make them safe.

For example, they worry about people tripping over them on busy walkways. One change already made to the bill limits the distance the robot can follow you to 10 feet for that reason.

To get perspective from someone who knows the risks that can be associated with new technology, Heartland News reporters reached out to SIUC’s Technology Department Chair, Dr. Julie Dunston.

“Bringing something into the market like that, there needs to be careful consideration of what are the potential benefits but also what are the potential risks," she said.

Dr. Dunston sees many risks. Starting with what can happen if something goes wrong with these robots.

“If there’s a malfunction in that, then maybe that robot would go out in the street away from it’s intended path,” she said.

The Gita is also equipped with colorful LED lights, which Dr. Dunston thinks could be dangerously alluring next to busy streets.

“I’m sure young children two to three years old will be drawn to this robot,” she said.

However, it’s not all flaws Dr. Dunston sees.

She also thinks this kind of technology could be a huge benefit to certain people.

“Where this could be used to assist with the elderly or people who are handicapped or disabled,” she said.

Overall, Dr. Dunston thinks lawmakers should be working out the details of this legislation carefully. But for any of it to matter, people need to purchase them. She believes these robots will be quite pricey when they come out first.

“It’s still to be seen how many people are going to embrace this idea,” she said. "And again, it’s going to have to be something that’s cost effective.”

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