San Francisco has given Postmates the city’s “first-ever permit for sidewalk robotics operations,” according to a story in TechCrunch. The move marks a turn in the city’s official attitude towards delivery robots on its city sidewalks.
Postmates unveiled its rover robot, dubbed Serve, in December of last year, but has been relatively quiet about the program since then. Serve is a cooler sized robot on wheels that can carry 50 pounds, go 25 miles on a charge and uses a combination of cameras, lidar and human assistance when needed to navigate.
But perhaps more intriguing than the robot itself is the city it will, errr, Serve. In December of 2017, the city of San Francisco enacted tight restrictions on the use of commercial sidewalk robots. At the time, San Francisco’s robot ban was seen as part of its attempt by the city to get ahead of a technology issue and avoid the civic complications things like ridesharing and corporate commuter busses created.
But while San Francisco clamped down, nearby cities like Berkeley and Sacramento and other towns across the country like Phoenix and Houston rolled out the welcome mat for delivery robots… at least for testing. Perhaps San Francisco felt that getting ahead of any robotic problems could wind up leaving it behind.
Postmates told TechCrunch that it has “…been eager to work directly with cities to seek a collaborative and inclusive approach to robotic deployment that respects our public rights of way, includes community input, and allows cities to develop thoughtful regulatory regimes,”
The robot delivery sector is certainly heating up this year. In addition to Postmates, rivals Kiwi and Starship have been heading to college campuses, Amazon is testing out its Scout robot in Irivine, CA, and Refraction AI just recently launched its three-wheeled autonomous delivery vehicle.
Postmates raised $100 million at the beginning of this year and is expected to go public later this year. If they follow through, perhaps a robot could ring the opening bell.