Law of Robotics

Please note this course will not be offered in the 2018/19 academic year.

Course summary

This course introduces the legal and wider regulatory issues raised by the increasing use of automated and autonomous devices. As we increasingly allow machines to make decisions for us, this raises significant problems for our legal concepts of liability, responsibility and legal personhood. As robots rely on sensors to perform their tasks, they also raise issues of data protection and privacy.

The legal issues raised by autonomous agents that conclude contracts online on behalf of their owner will be discussed, as will the regulatory issues of care / companion robots in a medical setting, self-driving cars and the automated city; and military applications such as drones.

The course covers embodied artificial intelligent systems (“robots”) as well as non-embodied devices (”autonomous agents”) and the legal ramifications of these technologies. Special attention will be given to efforts to create an international legal regime and associated proposals to standardise certain legal responses to robot technology globally.


  1. Robots, autonomous agents and the law: a historical introduction;
  2. The science of robotics: basic concepts and ideas;
  3. Machine imitating man: an introduction to artificial intelligence;
  4. Unembodied AI and private law: automated contract formation, online auctions and virtual companies;
  5. Unembodied AI and criminal law: online surveillance;
  6. Embodied AI: driverless cars and their regulation;
  7. Embodied AI: drones and other military applications: robots in the law of armed conflicts;
  8. Embodied AI: care robots and the elderly: medical law and ethics meets robotics;
  9. Regulating robots: paradigms and projects;
  10. Emerging issues in robotics and the law.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you should have:

  • a broad understanding of the legal issues created by autonomous technologies, and an awareness of the range of legal issues that are affected.
  • extensive knowledge of existing legal responses, both through legislation and relevant case law.
  • knowledge of legislative initiatives and reform proposals both nationally and internationally
  • extensive, detailed and critical knowledge of the legal issues created by one or more applications of autonomous technologies for law and legal regulation
  • an understanding of the interaction between economic, psychological, political, societal and ethical issues that regulators face when dealing with autonomous technologies
  • an understanding of the different modes of regulation that are available for regulators tackling autonomous technologies, and their interaction
  • a critical awareness of emerging issues that are likely to require legal solutions in the near future


4000-word essay (60%); assessed course work (20%); participation in online activity (20%).

Terms and conditions

Please note the University reserves the right to make variations to the contents of programmes, including the range of courses offered, and the available choice of courses in any given year may change.

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