People - 14.11.2018 - 00:00 

Who is liable for autonomous drones?

The development of autonomous systems is progressing. There is currently a lack of regulations for autonomous drones in Swiss air traffic law and in liability law. In his doctoral thesis, Silvio Hänsenberger has formulated proposed regulations in order to close this loophole.

14 November 2018. After completing his Master's degree course, the legal challenges relating to autonomous systems particularly sparked the interest of Silvio Hänsenberger. Companies manufacturing control units for self-flying drones were also looking for advice regarding the legal risks of possible uses. "Clarifying the law brought to light major loopholes in Swiss air traffic law and liability law", says Hänsenberger. And so in his doctorate thesis, "The civil rights liability for autonomous drones, including licensing and operating regulations", he took the opportunity to investigate the legalities of a new technology and to develop a solution for existing loopholes.

Not covered by the law
"Autonomous drones are not sufficiently covered by the law and injured parties, e.g. in the event of purely financial losses and air collisions, risk receiving no compensation", says Silvio Hänsenberger, discussing the current law. This is because damage claims based on incorrect decisions made by an algorithm cannot be enforced either by means of fault-based liability or with liability for products. The same applies for purely financial losses. "Liability for fault is only a possibility if due diligence has been violated."

Companies rely on a clear legal situation
Autonomous flights without the possibility of direct control and outside the field of view of a pilot are currently only permitted with exceptional approval. "International efforts indicate that in future these barriers will fall", says Silvio Hänsenberger. The absolute liability in air traffic law for unmanned aircraft, which includes autonomous drones, must be extended to cover damage for air collisions and purely financial losses, explains Hänsenberger. Switzerland is now one of the world's most important locations for the development of drone technologies. "So companies carrying out research and development in this sector rely on a clear legal situation." In his doctorate thesis he puts forward a proposal for the future regulation of autonomous drones, in order to increase legal certainty for the market players.

Making up for the legal deficit

Silvio Hänsenberger hopes that the proposed regulation he has formulated for autonomous drones will be act as a trigger to make up for the legal deficit relating to technological developments in the aviation sector. "The proposed legal changes may also act as a stimulus for the regulation of autonomous systems outside air traffic law."

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