First Documented Case of One Robot "Injuring" Another Robot?

Next year will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the word entry of the "robot" into the English language when it was used in the title of the 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti - "Rossum's Universal Robots") by the Czech writer Karel Capek, who credited his brother Josef Capek as creating it from the Czech term for "drudgery", robota.

In today's post, the personal injury and defective consumer product lawyer at The Doan Law Firm reports on an unusual recent event that may become commonplace in our lifetimes: a robot has "injured" another robot.

The Case

The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is billed as "… the world's gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies … the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace". This year's show may also mark the first documented case of one robot accidentally causing damage to another robot.

The robots involved in the incident were identified as:

  • A Model S Tesla, a product of Elon Musk's Tesla, Inc. At the time of the incident the vehicle was being operated in its "autonomous" mode as an Autonomous Vehicle (AV), meaning that it was operating under the control of its onboard computer without a driver being physically present as a "backup" in case of a problem with the vehicle or its computer.

  • A Promobot, which is advertised as an "… autonomous robot designed for business purposes. It is able to communicate with people on any topic, recognize faces, answer questions, move around avoiding obstacles, move its arms and head, show various materials on its display and integrate with third-party devices and systems."

In the YouTube video window below, note that the "Promobot" has paused about one foot from the left curb and is facing the oncoming Tesla "S" which was being operated as an AV (relying on its "onboard" computer technology such as GPS and computer-interpreted video data without a human driver).

We feel that it is worth noting that the vehicle was apparently not aware (via its computer's electronic sensors) that it had struck another object with sufficient force to knock the Promobot to the ground, but it also kept moving away from the "scene" of the impact in accordance with its computer's instructions. We need not remind you that if a human driver exhibited such behavior after striking a human pedestrian that, under Nevada law, the driver would face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The human driver could also be named as the defendant in a civil lawsuit and, if found guilty, could be ordered to pay damages to the injured pedestrian.


The technologies mentioned above would be of considerable interest to businesses that are under pressure from the costs associated with hiring, training, and retaining workers. However, several legal questions have yet to be addressed by the courts. Such questions include:

  • If an AV is involved in an accident while operating without a driver and it is shown that the vehicle's autonomous software was the cause of the accident, who is liable for damages: the company that provided the software to the AV manufacturer or the manufacturer itself?

  • If a dealership sells an AV that is later involved in an accident, is the dealership liable for selling a "defective consumer product" in the same manner as a drug manufacturer could be held liable if it used contaminated ingredients to manufacture its product?

  • Since there are already reports of currently-installed automobile computer systems being "hacked," who would be held liable if a "hacker" caused a malfunction that led to an accident: the hacker or the AV manufacturer (for failing to recognize that its equipment could be hacked)?

The first civil lawsuit involving an autonomous vehicle was filed in California in January of 2018 when Oscar Nilsson sued General Motors, alleging that he was injured when one of GM's autonomous Bolt EVs made an abrupt lane change before striking the motorcycle that he was driving. The lawsuit was settled out of court in June 2018, although the terms of settlement were not announced.

As we have seen, there are many potential legal issues that will surely arise as the number of AVs operating on our highways increases. Since most vehicle manufacturers are not known for their records of promptly providing vital vehicle safety information to the public, we urge anyone who has been involved in an accident involving a "self-driving" vehicle to contact The Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation, review of the facts in your injury case and a discussion of the legal avenues that may be available to you.

You can be certain that the "big boys" of the automotive industry have a roomful of lawyers whose job is to make sure that their employers do not lose lawsuits that are filed against them by those who were injured by defective products. If you are ready to fight back against these profit-hungry corporations, put the odds back in your favor by contacting us today!