© Starship Technologies

One of America's tech hubs could soon ban delivery robots from its sidewalks.

Mike Pomranz
May 18, 2017

San Francisco supervisor Norman Yee makes a good point about sidewalks: They’re for walking. Bicycles and skateboards aren’t supposed to be ridden on them; and that means that wheeled delivery robots ought to stay off them as well. If Yee has his way, this emerging technology won’t be allowed in his city—this week he introduced legislation in the San Francisco city council looking to ban the bots.

Autonomous delivery robots, which have slowly been being deployed in several cities, raise a number of concerns, says Yee. “I want to keep our sidewalks safe for people,” he told the SF Gate, specifying that they can cause a problem because “seniors, children [and] people with disabilities can’t maneuver quickly.” He believes bots can also pose a privacy threat since they have cameras or even be co-opted for terrorism. Plus, he says, they take away jobs from delivery workers.

Currently, San Francisco only has what the SF Gate describes as a “handful” of robots working delivering hot meals for Yelp Eat24 in a couple neighborhoods, thanks to a brand called Marble. But another brand, Starship Technologies, tried out a one day test run last year. And states across the country are already dealing with the forthcoming reality of delivery robots regardless. According to Recode, Virginia and Idaho recently passed laws allowing them, and other states like Wisconsin and Florida are considering similar legislation.

However, Yee says he spoke with the companies that make the robots, and he wasn’t convinced legislating for them was even practical. “I came to the conclusion that if we can’t enforce regulations, then we should just ban them,” he told Recode. “I think these robots would make sense, like on a Google campus or a university campus, where it’s a pretty enclosed environment.”

Still, many believe these bots – which aren’t bigger than a shopping cart and are built to move at around 3 or 4 miles per hour (near walking speed) – have more benefits than simply bringing people chicken parm sandwiches. “[Bots] could fix a lot of our traffic headaches caused by the ever-growing number of delivery vans and trucks that have to park illegally and dangerously to make their dropoffs,” a transportation expert told the SF Gate. Though if our sidewalks became as crowded with delivery robots as our streets are with delivery trucks, we might just be trading one annoyance for another.

[h/t Eater]