Who's liable for Autonmous Drones?

With the advent of new multicopter's like the Lily ( which is designed specifically for completely autonomous flight without a traditional R/C has anyone considered who's responsible for the aircraft, say in the case it flies into a person or damages property?

Whilst the ability to do "follow me" isn't new, normally there still is a person with an R/C and that person switches on the follow me/auto mode, and can disable follow me/auto and assume control at anytime.

However in the case of something like a Lily, there is no R/C, just a follow me transmitter.  Looking at two scenarios, first one a person who owns the drone is filming them self kayaking down a river and whilst the drone is tracking the person it flies into a person standing on the bank.  Is the person wearing the follow me module liable or is the manufacturer liable?

In a second scenario, the person who owns the drone rocks up at the kayaking event, and wants to film a competitor, they give the follow me model to the kayaker, and they throw the Lily into the air and it autonomously follows the kayaker, and hits a spectator standing on the river bank.  Who's liable?  The manufacturer?  The Kayaker, or the owner of the drone?

I'm not sure there's an answer to this (yet) but it's probably worth having a discussion as I am sure there will be differences in opinion.

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  • In my opinion, it is whoever is the pilot in command.  If flying autonomously, whoever is executing the mission and following the flight is responsible.  The ability to abort a mission and fly manually is important and the Lily and others like it have no way to do this.

    • Moderator

      That's a good answer, the pilot in command.  But who is the pilot in command?  Traditionally it's the person with the RC in their hands is the PIC, not the person wearing the follow me module. 

      With autonomous cars possibly hitting the roads soon, if there wasn't a steering wheel (as there isn't an RC in the Lily), would the person in the car be accountable? the owner? or the manufacturer?

      • Moderator

        The driverless cars are beginning to see the same problem, liability, not just for accidents but speeding, parking and other offenses. who gets the ticket! the  owner, passenger, programmer , GPS manufacturer etc , etc. 

        Ultimately the person who is responsible is the person who powers up the device and sets it into operation.  if the person does not have full command of the vehicle then he / she should not be operating it.  In my humble view if there is NO primary command control "by the pilot" via RC then that device should not be in the air. its basically a big rock ready to drop onto someone from a great height with all the unpleasant consequences of a stupid act.  

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