Sidewalk robots get legal rights as "pedestrians" - AXIOS


As small robots proliferate on sidewalks and city streets, so does legislation that grants them generous access rights and even classifies them, in the case of Pennsylvania, as "pedestrians."


Why it matters: Fears of a dystopian urban world where people dodge heavy, fast-moving droids are colliding with the aims of robot developers large and small — including Amazon and FedEx — to deploy delivery fleets.

  • "The sidewalk is the new hot debated space that the aerial drones were maybe three or five years ago," says Greg Lynn, CEO of Piaggio Fast Forward, which makes a suitcase-sized $3,250 robot called gita that follows its owner around.

  • "There's also a lot of people trying to deploy robots on bike lanes" where the bots can go faster than on sidewalks, he said.

Driving the news: States like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Idaho, Florida and Wisconsin have passed what are considered to be liberal rules permitting robots to operate on sidewalks — prompting pushback from cities like Pittsburgh that fear mishaps.

  • In Pennsylvania, robot "pedestrians" can weigh up to 550 pounds and drive up to 12 mph.

  • "Opposition has largely come from pedestrian and accessibility advocates, as well as labor unions like the Teamsters," per the Pittsburgh City Paper.

  • The laws are a boon to Amazon's Scout delivery robot and FedEx's Roxo, which are being tested in urban and suburban settings.

  • "Backers say the laws will usher in a future where household items show up in a matter of hours, with fewer idling delivery vans blocking traffic and spewing emissions," per Wired.

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