Starship sidewalk robot

Before robots can rise up and take over the world, they will need to overcome… municipal laws. Case in point, San Francisco, where the Board of Supervisors voted to enact tight restrictions on the use of delivery robots in the city.

The ordinance allows companies to get a permit for the purposes of testing autonomous delivery devices–for research purposes only— and include a lengthy list of requirements including:

  • Robot can’t go faster than 3 miles per hour
  • A human operator needs to be within 30 feet
  • The robots have to give the right of way to people
  • Testing can only be done in certain areas of the city

The move from the SF board highlights the importance of humans in fulfilling the promise of automated robot delivery. While advances in robotics continues at a rapid clip, local governments tend to lag behind technology. Indeed, as Curbed writes, the SF board is saying this measure was a way to get ahead of an impending technology shift and not be caught off guard by one like they were with Uber and Google busses. Whether that plays out remains to be seen.

But while San Francisco dips its cautious toe in the robot delivery waters, other areas of the country are jumping in. SF neighbor, Redwood City has a robot delivery pilot program in effect with Starship Technologies, and other states such as Wisconsin, Virginia have passed laws allowing robot deliveries.

And if peer pressure to keep up with other governments isn’t enough, perhaps seeing cross-state rival, Los Angeles, roll out their Top Chef robot deliveries this week will light the robotic fire in San Francisco.

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