San Francisco Just Put the Brakes on Delivery Robots

wired – excerpt

San Francisco, land of unrestrained tech wealth and the attendant hoodies and $29 loaves of bread, just said whoa whoa whoa to delivery robots.

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.”… (more)

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