The San Francisco Board of Supervisors made it much harder to test delivery robots this week. In a vote of five to one, the committee issued some strict regulations on cargo bots, which have been tested on city sidewalks in recent months. Supervisor Norman Yee, who initially proposed the regulation, cited concerns that bots essentially take over city sidewalks.
"Maybe five years from now, when we have 20,000 robots roaming the streets and people have to walk the streets," Yee told the Board. "Maybe then we'll do something, that seems to be a problem we have in San Francisco, and I do not want to let things get out of control again."
The initial language of Yee resembled more a total ban on the "bots". The restrictions have softened since its initial proposal, but things still do not look very good for startups that are at the forefront of robotic delivery services.
According to the new rules, companies will be limited to three robots per piece, with nine robots in total for the entire city. In addition to that, the bots will be relegated to industrial areas of low population, which in some way goes against the idea of delivering things to people.
Oh, and they will need constant human monitoring and they will not be able to travel more than three miles per hour, once again, leaving much of their planned functionality without effect. In addition to fears about an urban robotic takeover, supporters of the law mentioned a potential danger to pedestrians, particularly children and the elderly.
San Francisco's robotic restrictions come in the wake of recent regulation in Virginia and Idaho, which allow delivery bots to operate statewide. Unlike the San Francisco version, those laws were created with the support of Starship Technologies, a robotics launch company based in Estonia. Although those laws are restrictive in their own right, and the rules make things more difficult for companies that are not Starship.
These types of robots have made some high profile appearances on the streets of San Francisco in the last year. In many cases, companies have partnered with food delivery services. In April, we saw a Marble bot scouring the streets wearing a Yelp Eat24 logo. Undoubtedly, these regulations will significantly hinder the plans to advance beyond the first stages of testing and could convince startups to move to a more robot-friendly place.
Featured image: Marble.io