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What are the liabilities of autonomous farm vehicles?

Technology influences are evident in each area of farming, from genetically modified crops to advanced analytics and harvesting equipment. Though autonomous driving farm equipment can address the costly demands of human labor and resources, there are grave concerns about the liabilities these vehicles present.

Limited control

As the name implies, these vehicles do not rely on human steering or involvement apart from the programming and robotic control necessary. Should something go wrong, simply shutting down software may not be enough to prevent a catastrophe. The complex components of farming equipment are less likely to fail when human operators are not operating the vehicle while distracted or exhausted, yet one instance where a component like a clutch or a brake fails to engage can lead to a devastating accident that destroys property and causes serious injuries or even deaths.

Full responsibility

Despite relying on advanced software systems for operations, human programmers, operators, manufacturers, and owners still maintain responsibility when accidents occur. In the court of public opinion, human errors are more readily forgiven and evaluated less harshly than equipment failures. While a lawsuit may address the financial harm resulting from the incident, those who rely on autonomous machines may suffer the destruction of their reputation and industry credibility.

Technology is available that makes farming more efficient and cost-effective, yet serious concerns about liability and risk must factor into the decision-making when utilizing autonomous farming equipment.