Should Delivery Bots Be Banned From City Sidewalks?

San Francisco might block the service due to safety concerns

21 July 2017

San Francisco’s supervisor says he wants to ban delivery robots from the city’s sidewalks now that the startup Marble has begun employing its machines there.     

Marble, in partnership with Yelp’s food delivery service, Eat24, is conducting an experimental program in which human chaperones accompany the robots. San Francisco is the first city where Marble’s robot service is scheduled to be used.

City officials including Supervisor Norman Yee say they are worried that the robots could be hazardous. Yee told Recode that allowing the robots on sidewalks could be dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The fear is that pedestrians won’t be able move out of the way quickly enough as the machines maneuver the city sidewalks at speeds of about 6 kilometers per hour. Another of Yee’s concerns is how police could enforce prospective regulations regarding the robots, such as how fast they travel or how many are on the streets at any given time.

“Our streets and our sidewalks are made for people, not robots,” Yee told Recode. “This is consistent with how we operate in the city, where we don’t allow bikes or skateboards on sidewalks.” He also noted that the robots could take delivery jobs from residents.

Marble’s robots, which weigh more than 36 kilograms, use lidar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and 3D maps to navigate the city.

In the video below, Marble CEO Matt Delaney explains how the delivery robot navigates. The technology is designed to prevent the robot from running into pedestrians.

Marble competitor Starship Technologies of London says it has had no such troubles with municipal authorities. The company, whose engineering department is in Estonia, was launched in 2014 by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, who helped found Skype. They told Recode that Starship’s delivery robots have received positive feedback from the cities in which it operates, including Washington, D.C., and Redwood City, Calif.

Starship’s robots, about the size of an ice cooler, can carry up 11 kg and can travel 6 km per hour, according to a Washington Post article. Starship also has commercial partnerships with businesses in Estonia, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to distribute the robots.

Florida, Idaho, Virginia, and Wisconsin passed laws this year to allow delivery robots on their sidewalks, according to Recode.

In Virginia, regulations specify that ground robots weigh less than 23 kg, and Idaho has a weight limit of 36 kg. Laws in Idaho, Virginia, and Wisconsin allow cities to request alterations to the bots and designate the time when they may deliver.

“There wasn’t pushback [from legislators],” Virginia Delegate Ron Villanueva told Recode. “It was more like intrigue and curiosity about the technology, what the application would be, and how it would benefit the citizens.”

Would you welcome delivery robots to your neighborhood, or do you think they would present a hazard to pedestrians?

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