High-Tech Haven San Francisco May Kick Delivery Robots to the Curb

May 17, 2017

San Francisco may soon ban food delivery robots from its streets and sidewalks because of fears they may be obstacles to elderly people, children, and people with disabilities.

On Tuesday, city Supervisor Norman Yee proposed legislation that would prohibit the use of autonomous vehicles to deliver food or other products, according to tech news site Recode.

This is somewhat ironic considering that San Francisco prides itself on being receptive to new technologies. Elsewhere, government bodies including the state of Virginia, have signed off on the use of delivery robots.

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Some of these robots are already being used in San Francisco, so this proposed legislation isn't a moot point. In March, the restaurant delivery service DoorDash said it would start using Starship Technologies' robots to deliver food in some California cities. A few weeks later, Yelp's (yelp) Eat24 meal delivery service started making robot delivery an option in two San Francisco neighborhoods.

In the case of Yelp, the robots are provided by startup Marble, and have been said to resemble over-sized fax machines on wheels, a reference that might be lost on younger people. They travel at 3 mph to 4 mph using onboard cameras and other technology to navigate, similar to what is used in self-driving cars.

These robot deliveries thus far are trial runs, monitored by people close by. It is unclear if there have been any robot-vs.-people collisions.

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The proposed ban is a case of technology bumping up against actual humans, or at least the potential for that happening. Yee told Recode that overall, this is a safety issue.

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