Aye, robot

Cd'A City Council approves robot ordinance

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COEUR d'ALENE - Coeur d'Alene could very well be the first city in the United States to pass ordinances governing the use of robots in public spaces.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt the ordinance.

City Attorney Mike Gridley has been working with Nick Smoot, a member of the Innovation Collective, to develop an ordinance which would encourage robotics research and development and entice robotics industry leaders to consider Coeur d'Alene as a robotics hub.

Smoot and Gridley approached the council last month with an ordinance some felt might discourage robotics development because it required licensing and permitting for certain robots.

"We have simplified this from what we brought you two weeks ago," Gridley told the council. "Nick looked at it again and we huddled up and decided what we really want to do is make it clear that robots are authorized on public property under certain conditions and must be operated pursuant to any signage or any other direction from city council or city staff."

The ordinance defines what robots are and distinguishes them from things like bicycles or toys that would operate on city property.

It also adds a provision for autonomous robots like robotic cars.

"This would allow them to operate on city streets provided they meet all local, state and federal regulations," Gridley said.

Smoot agreed with some of the council members that the ordinance appears to be a marketing ploy, but added that its passage is a way to show the world that Coeur d'Alene welcomes research and development of robotics.

That is important, he said, in light of the upcoming Think Big Festival on Aug. 15. The Innovation Collective has invited a panel of robotics experts from all over the world to speak at that event.

Smoot said having the ordinance in place would be helpful in moving the city toward developing a robotics hub.

"This assists us in the process with things we already have in motion, such as the professor in robotics we have coming from Tokyo to the University of Idaho for a sabbatical," Smoot told the council, adding it also ties in with some initiatives the group has planned for 2015 and beyond.

Councilwoman Kiki Miller said the ordinance does appear to be somewhat of a marketing ploy, but added it has some potential to be a positive for Coeur d'Alene.

Before voting on the ordinance, Councilman Woody McEvers asked Councilman Ron Edinger what he though of the proposal.

Edinger said he didn't stay for the last presentation on the matter, but he did read more about it and learned that Smoot does make some good points.

"We can give it a go," he told McEvers. "What the hell; we can always say 'no' later."

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