Photo: Starship Technologies in July 4th parade, Redwood City, CA via @StarshipRobots on Twitter
Unmanned delivery robots can make their way over bumps and curbs, but the path to cruising (legally) on the public sidewalk and through the crosswalk has other challenges, including state regulatory approval. Those roadblocks are starting to diminish as Ohio this month became the fifth state to pass a law permitting the use of delivery robots statewide on city-owned sidewalks and crosswalks.
Similar laws have already been passed this year from legislatures in Wisconsin, Idaho, Florida and Virginia. The five states join Washington, D.C., which last year passed special legislation—the Personal Delivery Device Pilot Act of 2016—to allow six-wheeled unmanned devices on the District’s public sidewalks and crosswalks.
London-based Starship Technologies has been integral to getting the new state laws and regulations approved. The company has sent lobbyists to help educate legislators on the technology and champion passage of the laws in D.C. and in all five states.
Unmanned Machines: On a Roll
Starship Technologies is one among several IoT companies that aims to provide a quick, inexpensive, on-demand courier service, allowing retailers to deliver items such as pizza, flowers and groceries to nearby customers. About the size of a rolling cooler, Starship Technologies robots are categorized as unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and are a segment of a larger growing robotics market. Research firm Technavio predicts the overall market for UGVs, mail-sorting robots and drones that deliver products to customers from warehouses or manufacturing locations will expand from $15 million in 2015 to $54 million by 2020.
Currently, Starship Technologies isn’t operating in any of the new states that have passed the robot delivery laws. However, Starship has announced that it intends to begin a pilot in Florida this year. In the United States, it currently has pilot delivery programs operating in Redwood City, CA, and Washington, D.C.
Starship Technologies has also signed an agreement with Domino’s for pizza delivery in selected Dutch and German cities. The company has launched business partnerships in Estonia, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States with DoorDash, Hermes Parcel Delivery, Just Eat, Postmates, Swiss Post and Wolt.
Weight and Speed Limits
In Ohio, the new law allows for unmanned machines to operate on sidewalks and in the crosswalks in any city statewide. The robots must weigh less than 90 lbs. and travel at speeds of less than 10 mph. While the robots can move legally without an operator nearby, the law in Ohio requires that a person be in the loop remotely to take over operation in case something goes wrong. The other states have almost identical laws, with weight limits that range from 50 to 90 lbs.
While the Starship robots slip in under the weight limits, some of its competitors will need to slim down to enter the market. For a heavier robot to permanently operate in the five states with the new autonomous machine laws, the manufacturer would need to get a special provision passed by the lawmakers.
The weight limit provision hasn’t created any setbacks, however, to market development and testing. San Francisco-based startup Marble makes a fleet of intelligent courier robots and is currently running a pilot for automated food delivery with Yelp Eat24 in select San Francisco neighborhoods.
The Marble robots are a bit larger and heavier than Starship’s machines. The Marble machine uses on-board lidar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors, as well as Nvidia’s Jetson TX1 AI supercomputers to sense the environment around them. Structurally, the entire back section of the Marble delivery robot can be swapped out, as the company has announced that it plans to offer “temperature control” services, turning its robots into roving ovens or refrigerators.
Another contender in the last-mile delivery market is Dispatch, based in South San Francisco. Its first vehicle, nicknamed Carry, has four compartments that can carry a total of 100 lbs. Dispatch launched its pilot programs at Menlo College and CSU Monterey Bay, CA, using the device to deliver students their mail, packages and other things. Students can track Carry’s location and get notified when it arrives. Once the robot rolls up, students can unlock and access their package using their mobile phones.
The Dispatch robot is engineered to complete multiple deliveries per trip. It was built purposely heavy enough so that it would take two people to pick it up, making it next to impossible for one person to easily steal it in an urban or college environment. Carry connects to a 4G network for accurate location tracking for the operator and the recipient of the payload.
Hit the Streets with Autonomous Delivery Technology
- Learn more about Dispatch delivery robots or watch Carry make a delivery.
- Information and specs on the Starship Technologies robots are available at www.starship.xyz/.
- Read about Marble’s plans for developing its fleet of intelligent courier robots.
- To understand the state regulations currently in place for the robots, read Virginia’s SB 1207, “Electric personal delivery devices, operation on sidewalks and shared-use paths.”