July 15, 2014

Proposed CdA City Ordinance Needs Work

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 8:29 am


The agenda for tonight’s regularly-scheduled meeting of the Coeur d’Alene City Council indicates that the Public Works Committee will ask the Council to consider Council Bill 14-1012 – Robot Regulation.  Here is the City Attorney’s Staff Report and DRAFT wording of the proposed ordinance as they appeared today on the City’s website.

OpenCdA notes that the proposed ordinance’s definition of “ROBOT” is “… a self-powered, programmable mechanical device capable of operating autonomously or via remote control.”

We think before passing this ordinance as written, the City Council needs to very thoughtfully consider the wide array of devices which that definition includes and which the Council is proposing to regulate in some form or another. 

Here are two examples for the Council to consider:

OpenCdA uses a Nikon digital single-lens reflex camera system with an autofocus lens and various time-lapse and remote control accessories.  This camera system is self-powered and programmable.  The autofocus lens contains a small electrical motor (essential mechanical device) which focuses the lens as programmed.  The system can be set on a tripod and operate autonomously (hands-off, as in the time lapse function) or via remote control (either wired or wireless).   We note that many commercial security surveillance camera systems operate similarly.  Our camera system and some commercial security surveillance camera systems meet the City’s proposed definition of “ROBOT.”

We note that under the heading “PROHIBITED ACTS,”Robots may not photograph or record, in any manner, any human being on private property or any private property without the express consent of the human being(s) or the owner(s) of the property.”  Under that wording, if we (or a tourist or a news photographer) were to set up such a “robotic” camera system to record a public event (e.g., the Independence Day parade in Coeur d’Alene) and happened to incidentally capture one or more images which included “any human being on private property” or even “any private property without the express consent of … the owner(s) of the property,” we or the tourist or the news photographer would be in violation of the proposed ordinance.

How about thought-controlled wheelchairs like the one former New Orleans Saint player Steve Gleason uses?  Or the one Professor Stephen Hawking uses?  Suppose Mr. Gleason or Professor Hawking (or even a tourist using a thought-controlled wheelchair) wanted to visit McEuen Park.  Invoking the “LICENSING” provision of the proposed ordinance, all of them would be required to pay a fee and be licensed by the City of Coeur d’Alene.

We suggest that before once again passing a sounds good/feels good ordinance it will be unable or unwilling to enforce, the Coeur d’Alene City Council needs to consider if the City really needs such an ordinance.    Are “robots” as defined in the proposed ordinance really a problem in Coeur d’Alene?






  1. Bill, as long as your camera weighs less than 100 lbs., you’re good.

    Comment by Dan Gookin — July 15, 2014 @ 8:36 am

  2. Dan,

    No, weighing under 100 pounds only means it may not have to be licensed. A lawfully unlicensed “robot” can still be the instrument to commit a prohibited act and therefore violate the proposed ordinance.

    Comment by Bill — July 15, 2014 @ 8:49 am

  3. Good point. I’ll bring that up.

    Comment by Dan Gookin — July 15, 2014 @ 9:17 am

  4. Aren’t the small drones and camera helicopters less than 100 lbs? Aren’t there some drones as tiny as a flying insect? It’s an interesting marketing idea to regulate robots in order to get in the national news, but please take the time to get the wording right so very real concerns, like Bill’s, are not overlooked.

    Comment by mary — July 15, 2014 @ 9:57 am

  5. Mary,

    My concern is that if Mayor Widmyer and some members of the City Council rush into passing unnecessary, poorly conceived, or poorly written ordinances, they may be unwittingly discouraging that which they hoped their regulation would attract.

    But prematurely and carelessly regulating the tool (the “robot”) may truly be swatting a mosquito with a sledge hammer. Regulating or prohibiting the undesirable outcome of the inappropriate use of the tool may make a lot more sense. Using your example of the camera helicopters, Idaho already has a video voyeurism law that may (or being Idaho, may not) effectively regulate the unwanted behavior without outlawing the tool.

    With your background in nursing, you’re no doubt already familiar with the advances in medical robotics. How sad it would be if in their haste to regulate “robots,” the federal, state, and local governments foreclose the development of beneficial applications.

    Comment by Bill — July 15, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

  6. Another cut-n-paste job by City legal services taken from the “Ordinances for Dummies” franchise (Ha, Ha, didn’t think of that one did you Dan G.? In all seriousness though why is Gridley devoting so much time on Vision 2030? A long-range planning tool being facilitated by the city’s chief legal beagle seems odd, very odd considering that the Plan supposedly has no legal weight. Maybe if he wasn’t spending so much time on “planning” issues and his right hand man wasn’t still acting as the Planning Director they could focus on what they were hired to do.

    Comment by Old Dog — July 15, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  7. Old Dog,
    I couldn’t agree more with what you just said.
    I hope he is as willing to throw money at the owner of the dog that was shot as he is with all the other sales jobs he’s been working on.

    Comment by Eric — July 16, 2014 @ 10:40 am

  8. The Cda Press reported today–2 days after the city council meeting–that the Robot Ordinance was going to be reviewed. It quoted Mr. Smoot as stating–“I am requesting that we go back and do a little tweaking,” he said. “At this point this has been in the paper, and I’ve had calls from Boise, calls from Spokane and calls from Moscow from people who have seen this saying you can’t do this and you can’t do that.” Perhaps someone read Bill’s comments? One, as I do, has to wonder where city attorney gridley was and what he was doing. Why wasn’t he advising Mr. Smoot and the city council you can’t do this and you can’t do that?

    Comment by up river — July 17, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

  9. up river,

    Yes, Gridley and Widmyer were gushing all over themselves about Coeur d’Alene needed an ordinance to promote the regulation of the as-yet-nonexistent robotics industry here. According to Mayor Widmyer in the Press skewspaper article headlined Robot Rebellion?, “”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. They are going to see that Coeur d’Alene is on the cutting edge of robotics.” So in Widmyer’s myopic view of technology, passing an ordinance regulating an industry puts Coeur d’Alene on the cutting edge of that industry? Really? Think about the that.

    After reading this promotional article written by Coeur d’Alene Press editor Mike Patrick in the North Idaho Business Journal and then re-reading the Press’s article headlined Robot Rebellion?, I’m beginning to wonder if Smoot is not just another self-promoter who has figured out how to play the City of Coeur d’Alene like a five-string banjo. He got a lot of free publicity from the Press and our City government.

    I’d also question the wisdom of relying heavily on an interested party (Smoot) to develop the wording for a regulation of an industry being hawked by that party. It certainly raises the possibility that any regulation he might suggest might also favor him and other interested parties to the detriment of others (e.g., their competitors) in the industry.

    Comment by Bill — July 17, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

  10. We have to pass the ordinance to know what’s in the ordinance!

    Comment by JSmetal — July 18, 2014 @ 9:02 am

  11. JSmetal,

    If only that were true. Unfortunately, the Mayor and City Attorney haven’t got the foggiest idea of the breadth of the concept they proposed an ordinance to regulate. I gave a couple examples in the main body of the post.

    Here’s another example: Agricultural robotics.

    How about Robotics in agriculture and forestry?

    Automated and programmable remote command and control of mechanical devices has been around for decades. Advances in command, control, communications, and computers along with sensor and power source development update the capabilities faster than the City could possibly keep its proposed ordinance up-to-date.

    Comment by Bill — July 18, 2014 @ 9:45 am

  12. Bill’s posted at #9 “It certainly raises the possibility that any regulation he might suggest might also favor him and other interested parties to the detriment of others (e.g., their competitors) in the industry.” Today’s Press article “Time to Innovate” reports that Smoot approached the LCDC Board “last week”. It appears that the possibility raised by Bill’s post may well be ‘spot on’.

    Comment by up river — July 22, 2014 @ 6:45 am

  13. Surprise, surprise–the primary author of the ill-conceived ordinance now wants some of that creamed LCDC gravy for his otherwise bland potatoes. Give me your poor, wretched, humbled masses (tax increment financing through an appointed board without oversight, a bit of half million an acre land, a comprehensive plan amendment, rezone, water, sewer, turkey feeders, valet parking, a mini-Starbucks) and I will give you Liberty! Fee at last, fee at last!

    Comment by Old Dog — July 22, 2014 @ 10:31 pm

  14. And yes, I meant “fee at last” (City billing to follow constuction)

    Comment by Old Dog — July 22, 2014 @ 11:23 pm

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