Robot rebellion?

Cd'A City Council considers code to regulate, license robotics

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Tom Daugherty, president of Sustainable Organization strategic sustainability planning, talks about the need for children to receive the right kind of education during a 3D printer demonstration Saturday, May 24 at GIZMO CDA on Fourth Street.

COEUR d'ALENE - Isaac Asimov would be proud.

Tonight the Coeur d'Alene City Council will consider a new section of city code designed to regulate and license robots on publicly owned property.

That is something Asimov, a science fiction writer who died in 1992, wrote about in his short story "Runaround" in 1942. His three laws of robotics have been a guide for science fiction writers ever since, and they now appear to be the basis for the city's new ordinance. (See sidebar, A2)

"This idea was brought to us by Nick Smoot, who is working with a lot of people in the industry," said city attorney Mike Gridley, acknowledging that Asimov's laws did have an influence on the new ordinance.

Gridley said, according to Smoot, there are many robotics being used already in many different ways, and while the new ordinance may seem premature, there may be a need for it soon enough.

"Why not take a position and run with it?" Gridley said. "If it helps us recruit more jobs to the area, then why not?"

Mayor Steve Widmyer said Smoot is among several high-tech entrepreneurs who have relocated to Coeur d'Alene, and they are making stuff happen.

"What this does is it gives us a promotional tool," Widmyer said. "We have some really young aggressive people who are into robotics, like Nick Smoot, and they think this is a great growth industry."

Widmyer said he is in favor of putting Coeur d'Alene on the map for the robotics industry.

"And really the timing is great for the city to pass an ordinance because we have got a group of robotics folks coming to Coeur d'Alene in August," he said. "They are going to see that Coeur d'Alene is on the cutting edge of robotics.

"This might be a place they want to bring their companies," he added. "These guys really are the business leaders of the future."

Nick Smoot, CEO and founder of 'Here on Biz,' approached the city earlier this year to propose the laws. Since then, the concept has continued to spread and now Smoot is working with a number of other community leaders and entrepreneurs.

Smoot said Coeur d'Alene has all of the components necessary to become a world leader in robotic startup companies.

He connected with Gizmo and other entrepreneurs to put on a robotics conference in August and is working to find a permanent facility to help incubate the robotics and other technical industries in Coeur d'Alene.

He is hoping the new laws will pass and generate some publicity for Coeur d'Alene.

"The reality is that this seems funny enough that some people think it's all about marketing. Is it?" Smoot said. "Sure there is a component of it. I absolutely want to be the first city in the world to have laws governing robots, so the rest of the robot world is like: What?

"But at the same time, the United Nations, the United States government and Google all have these internal research projects to figure out what kind of laws to put in place," he explained.

Smoot said he was at the Live After 5 event last week and the Fourth of July Parade, and people were filming the whole event with a quad-copter equipped with video cameras.

"These things are happening now," he said. "But what are the rules governing quad-copters? Could I fly one up to all of those windows and start looking in those condos?"

Technically, he said, yes he could.

"Those are real issues that we are starting to address and saying, you know, that is not OK," he said, adding that caution should be used in the process to avoid over-regulating the industry.

"Because let's face it, this is Idaho and part of the beauty is there are not a lot of restrictions here and it's easy to start a business," he said.

Ultimately, Smoot said the laws will surely change as concerns and the needs of the industry change, but he said regulation has to start somewhere.

"It's like with automobiles. Councilman Dan Gookin makes a great point; when automobiles came out, they had no idea on how to regulate them," Smoot said. "Back then, when automobiles came to an intersection, the driver got out and waved a certain flag to let everyone else know what he was doing.

"This is the same thing," he continued. "We are going to be first with these laws, but at least we are not making people walk down the street waving flags."

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