University of Windsor prof focuses on drone and robot law

The University of Windsor has recruited a prof for its law school who will be focused on problems of the not-too-distant future -- including the legal implications of robots.

'The big picture of my research is looking at how to develop a regulatory framework'

Kristen Thomasen will be joining the University of Windsor next year as an assistant professor of law, robotics and society. (Kristen Thomasen/Twitter)

A new University of Windsor law professor will focus on the high-tech problems of the not-too-distant future — specifically drones and robots.

Kristen Thomasen will be an assistant professor of law, robotics and society.

That means thinking about some of the legal issues that will crop up with coming technologies that will soon be part of our day-to-day lives.

"It's quite exciting for the field, it's very exciting for me, obviously," Thomasen told CBC Radio's Windsor Morning, when describing her new job. "It's a strong recognition of the importance of thinking about the legal implications of robots."

You can listen to Thomasen's entire interview with Windsor Morning host Peter Duck in the player below:

The University's of Windsor's newest hire has a futuristic specialty: robots and the law. It's a North American first. We spoke to Kristen Thomasen. 6:15

Thomasen will join the school at the start of next year. Until then, she'll be wrapping up work on her PhD at the University of Ottawa.

To date, much of her research has focused on drones.

"The big picture of my research is looking at how to develop a regulatory framework for the use of drones in Canada," Thomasen said.

Different kinds of privacy issues

More specifically, she has looked at the ways drones affect people's lives and the way regulations for these machines should be structured.

Kristen Thomasen's research has looked at privacy issues involved with the use of drones. (Australia Post/Twitter)

In the years ahead, Thomasen intends to broaden her drone-related research, moving outside the realm of privacy concerns. She also has interest in pursuing privacy questions in the wider robotic world.

Thomasen said there are privacy concerns in the robotic world that differ from other areas of technology.

"Robots can move around and observe things, can interact with the world in a way that other technologies don't," she said.

Additionally, Thomasen said we have a tendency to treat robots as people.

"They can be designed in a way to exploit that natural human tendency to treat them like they are other individuals and so we might instill trust in a robot in a way that we would with a human, but the robot is doing something very different," she said.

Paul Rouillard, the owner of the Windsor-based DroneFlyTours, told CBC News he liked the idea of seeing the university devote a position to this area of research.

"I agree 100 per cent," he said, referring to the concept.

Rouillard is a real estate agent who has embraced the use of drones to help sell homes and properties. He especially useful for "showing" them to potential out-of-town buyers.

Rouillard said his business follows the rules and files permits as required by Transport Canada. But he sees many people using drones in an "inappropriate" manner and thinks greater regulation is needed in general.

With files from the CBC's Jonathan Pinto and CBC Radio's Windsor Morning