In addition to random celebrity sightings, residents of West Hollywood, CA will soon be spotting autonomous delivery robots in their neighborhood. Last night the West Hollywood city council approved the use of delivery robots on its city streets (hat tip to WeHoVille).
A trial of the program will start next month with Postmates’ Serve robot and run for 90 days. Serve is a cooler-sized robot that scurries around on four wheels, and while it can run autonomously using sensors and cameras to avoid people and obstacles, the city council is requiring a human chaperone during the trial. Additionally, only three robots can be in operation at once, they can only run during the day, and they aren’t allowed on sidewalks deemed substandard.
Serve has already been making deliveries in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles since the tail end of last year, and the West Hollywood expansion illustrates how cautious local regulators are being when it comes to robots.
Across the country from West Hollywood, state lawmakers in Missouri introduced their own bill to regulate sidewalk delivery robots. The proposed legislation would limit a robot’s weight to 200 lbs, have autonomous driving capabilities, and require an insurance policy of $100,000 to cover any damages.
State and local governments across the country are grappling with rapid innovation like sidewalk robots essentially in real time. Lawmakers have to weigh the convenience of something like an autonomous sidewalk robot with the costs. Sidewalk robots could help reduce traffic congestion by getting delivery cars off the road, but then you have fleets of ‘bots crowding sidewalks. Robots could make meal delivery more affordable, but you have to make sure they are distributed in an equitable fashion. Then there are questions around liability and privacy when running robots on public streets, and more fundamental questions like where robots can recharge.
The point is, autonomous robot delivery technology is available and ready, now we just to wait and see how it will be integrated into our everyday lives.