Key Issues

Robotics / Automation

Technologies are converging to take robotics to new levels of autonomy and sophistication.

Automation has always been at the heart of industrial transformation – fully automated production lines can even operate in the dark. But the addition of artificial intelligence and connectivity is increasing the functionality of robotic tools, making them smart and responsive, and enabling dexterity and delicacy of handling to a degree not previously achievable. As we seek to build social distancing into our working enviroments and practices, automation is moving up the agenda.

Cross-sector applications

Warehousing, customer fulfilment centres and even shop floors are combining robotics with connected Internet of Things (IoT) control systems and process optimisation tools, to maximise the efficient use of space, provide real-time enhanced data analytics for optimised stock management and eliminate cost with efficient processes. In-house development of these systems has enabled some businesses to transform their entire model even further by pivoting that in-house technology into a revenue-generating business in its own right.

Transformation is not confined to manufacturing and logistics – the life sciences and healthcare sectors are also seeing huge opportunities. Assistive robotics systems are helping human surgeons with ever-more complex and intricate surgery, and ushering-in new ways to give patients back their mobility with advanced prosthetics and aids.

In the defence sector, robotics and other autonomous systems continue to play a major role, while exoskeletons are also important in heavy construction, enabling ‘physically augmented’ humans.

Shaping the future

Having worked closely with leading-edge inventors and technology companies in the field, we’ve developed in-depth knowledge of these technologies. We combine this with our longstanding pedigree in retail and logistics, manufacturing and the life sciences sector to bring greater insight and understanding to robotics and automation.

As client needs evolve, we’re recognising demand for legal support that spans the full gamut of the issues around robotics and autonomous systems. It can encompass procurement and ongoing contracting for such systems, including software integration and complex data sharing work. Structuring liability is also a major factor for these systems which combine integral functionality with customer-specific adaptations. Autonomous systems present even more challenges for conventional liability models.

The protection and licensing of intellectual property, including for innovations and invention, is (unsurprisingly) coming to the fore, along with structuring ownership of any further advancements made during usage. Our experience in protecting the IP rights of innovators in other fields feeds directly into this area.

Care around convergence

Special care must also be taken to ensure that robotic systems which handle sensitive and/or personal data are designed to be compliant with privacy requirements. Sometimes, even spotting when such data acquisition is likely to infringe or trigger a regulated obligation can be difficult. And where robotic technology incorporates Internet of Things functionality, connectivity and security for the data flows are critical. Where robotics are designed for use by consumers, we can also ensure compliance with the framework of consumer rights.

Robotics and artificial intelligence are common partners in digital transformation. We help clients ensure that the particularities of AI and other advanced technology are properly reflected in the contractual liability framework, while always monitoring the regulatory landscape as autonomous robotics develop and move into everyday use.