It’s 2017. And in the Bay Area, robots currently drive cars, conduct home tours, clobber each other in prize fights, and guard area dogs. But machines must step lightly if they try to step onto a San Francisco sidewalk.
The SF Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, December 5 to severely restrict the machines, which roll on sidewalks and autonomously dodge obstacles like dogs and buskers. Now startups will have to get permits to run their robots under strict guidelines in particular zones, typically industrial areas with low foot traffic. And even then, they may only do so for research purposes, not making actual deliveries. It’s perhaps the harshest crackdown on delivery robots in the United States—again, this in the city that gave the world an app that sends someone to your car to park it for you.
Actually, delivery robots are a bit like that, though far more advanced and less insufferable. Like self-driving cars, they see their world with a range of sensors, including lasers. Order food from a participating restaurant and a worker will load up your order into the robot and send it on its way. At the moment, a human handler will follow with a joystick, should something go awry. But these machines are actually pretty good at finding their way around. Once one gets to your place, you unlock it with a PIN, grab your food, and send the robot on its way.
Because an operator is following the robot at all times, you might consider the robot to be a fancied-up, slightly more autonomous version of a person pushing a shopping cart. “But that's not the business model that they're going after,” says San Francisco Supervisor Norman Yee, who spearheaded the legislation. “The business model is basically get as many robots out there to do deliveries and somebody in some office will monitor all these robots. So at that point you're inviting potential collisions with people.”
The harshest crackdown on delivery robots in the United States
The ordinance, allows the Department of Public Works to issue permits for the testing of “Autonomous Delivery Devices” with a long list of rules in place, including but not limited to:
Autonomous delivery devices would not be allowed to travel more than three miles per hour.
A human operator would be required to remain within 30 feet of the device during testing.
Permittees would only be allowed to test autonomous delivery devices on sidewalks that (A) are located in zoning districts designated for Production, Design, and Repair (“PDR”) uses, (B) are not identified as a high-injury corridor.
Autonomous delivery devices would be prohibited from transporting waste or hazardous materials (such as flammables or ammunition)
Autonomous delivery devices would be required to emit a warning noise while in operation.
When not in use for Testing, each permittee would be required to dock autonomous delivery devices on private property and not on a city sidewalk or in the public right of way.
On Tuesday, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of strict regulation that bars autonomous delivery robots from most city sidewalks.
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San Francisco just put the brakes on delivery robots | Wired