San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors made it a lot tougher to test delivery robots this week. In a five to one vote, the committee handed down some strict regulations on on the cargo bots, which have been piloted on city sidewalks over the past several months. Supervisor Norman Yee, who initially proposed the regulation cited concerns around the ‘bots essentially taking over city sidewalks.
“Maybe five years from now, when we have 20,000 robots roaming around on the streets and people have to walk on the streets with the cars,” Yee told the Board. “Maybe then we’ll do something. That seems to be a problem we have in San Francisco, and I don’t want to let things get out of hand again.”
Yee’s initial language was more akin to an outright ban on the ‘bots. The restrictions have softened since its initial proposal, but things still don’t look great for startups at the forefront of robotic delivery services.
According to the new rules, companies will be limited to three robots a piece, with nine total robots for the entire city. On top of that, the bots will be relegated to low population industrial areas, which kind of flies in the face of the whole notion of delivering stuff to people.
Oh, and they’ll need constant human monitoring and won’t be able to travel more than three miles an hour — again, rendering much of their planned functionality moot. In addition to fears around an urban robotic takeover, supporters of the law cited potential danger to pedestrians — in particular, children and the elderly.
San Francisco’s robotic restrictions arrive on the tail of recent regulation in Virginia and Idaho, which allow delivery ‘bots to operate statewide. Unlike San Francisco’s version, those laws were created with the support of Starship Technologies, a robotics delivery startup based out of Estonia. Though those laws are restrictive in their own right, and rules do make things tougher for companies that aren’t Starship.
These sorts of robots have made some high profile appearances on San Francisco’s streets in the past year. In many cases, companies have teamed with food delivery services. Back in April, we spotted one ‘bot from Marble cruising the streets sporting a Yelp Eat24 logo. These regulations will no doubt put a sizable damper on plans to move beyond the earliest testing stages and could potentially convince startups to relocate to a more robot-friendly locale.