Delivery robots are getting the green light in Midwest and east coast states, but not in San Francisco if one official has his way.
Supervisor Norman Yee has proposed legislation to ban autonomous robot delivery machines from neighborhood sidewalks calling them a public safety hazard. Yee doesn’t point to any specific incidents and the technology has been in pilot in several districts, but that was not enough to appease this lawmaker.
Apparently, Yee decided to ban the delivery bots after meeting with the police department and other agencies. They indicated they didn’t know how to enforce any regulations on robots such as maximum speeds or the number of machines being used at a given time.
Yee said to Wired:
“For me to wait for something to happen is silly,” Yee says, “because I think it’s going to happen.”
It’s about nipping the technology in the bud:
“It’s all about trying to get ahead of the curve before it gets out of hand,” Yee says. “Basically when you give them space, you never get it back.”
This bill is a departure from the direction other states and counties are moving toward. As we reported recently, Virginia and Idaho are leading the way in creating rules that allow this technology on their streets -while still granting their municipalities the flexibility to determine what’s best for them. Wisconsin also passed pro-robot legislation and a bill is pending in Florida.
San Carlos and Redwood City in California have taken a pro-robot position. The residents of San Carlos are welcoming the robots as a positive step that will help businesses meet growing demand. Meanwhile, city officials in Redwood City hope the robots will reduce downtown traffic and parking congestion. If only San Francisco were taking a page from their books.
Public safety may not be the only concern on Yee’s mind. He noted to Recode that he was concerned about delivery robots challenging jobs. California leads the nation in employment of light truck or delivery services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 99,890 people are employed in California earning an hourly mean wage of $18.21 (or $37,880 annually). He may be motivated by fears that the robots will displace such workers.
We are all concerned when jobs are lost, but technology often brings different kinds of jobs with it. The battle in San Francisco is just the beginning of yet another battle between public policy and technology. We’ve seen how this has played out with regard to ride-sharing. The question is whether California will eventually step in to impose a state-wide standard and, if so, whether it will be to limit or encourage robotic delivery technology.