Bills going through the Virginia legislature, if passed, could make the state the first to allow robot delivery devices on sidewalks statewide. This is exciting because it’s a way to make Virginia first in a very innovative area: automated delivery.
Sarah Rankin of the Associated Press interviewed me about the pending bills.
Paul Mackie, a spokesman for Mobility Lab, a publicly funded nonprofit based in Arlington that researches transportation issues, called the bill “a total slam dunk” for Virginia and said he’d be shocked if it didn’t pass.
He called it an inexpensive way for policymakers to address the fact that some cities have no more room for new roads and existing ones are being clogged by delivery vehicles.
“I think these little R2-D2 talking mini-fridges could do a lot for saving space and making things safer on the streets and sidewalks,” he said.
The robots, by Starship Technologies, are already approved for operation in Washington, D.C., and Redwood City, Calif., and other company’s models are operating in other cities and campuses.
Another great reason for more widespread implementation of delivery robots is that it will allow some jurisdictions to dip their feet in the water on autonomous vehicles. If places aren’t ready to full-on test AVs, they can give a chance to sidewalk robots.
Finally, it’s still unclear whether the bots would even hurt jobs. Today’s delivery people could be transferred into jobs monitoring and operating the robots, while other workers can help design and build them along with some of the accompanying infrastructure.
And fancy this: perhaps Virginia and other places’ sidewalks could be improved as part of the transition.