San Francisco Enacts New Laws to Limit Delivery Robots

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Online retail giant Amazon wowed the tech world this week with the issuing of a new patent for its upcoming delivery drone. The new bot featured a unique self-destruct mode designed to prevent dangerous crashes that could damage property or hurt passerbys in the event of a malfunction. To date, the company has carried out most of its test in the United Kingdom, as United States officials have been increasingly wary of automated drones operating in the country’s airspace. Now it seems that terrestrial delivery bots will suffer from similar legal restrictions.

This week, San Francisco passed new laws that will greatly inhibit how and where delivery robots can operate in public spaces. Handed down by the city’s Board of Supervisors, the new regulations will require a human operator to remain nearby, effectively killing the possibility of fully autonomous delivery for customers. The guidelines also restrict the delivery bots from traveling above three miles per hour, can only operate in designated industrial areas, and most cripplingly, capped the number of robots in operation at any given time to nine.
The new laws will be enforced via a strict permit policy, forcing companies to register with the city.

The regulations don’t stop there, either. According to tech magazine Wired, the bots may even be restricted from making deliveries at all, instead only allowed to operate for “research purposes.” Creators of the machines will also be forced to add a number of safety features. The delivery robots must now issue an audible warning sound to alert pedestrians of their presence and also need to be outfitted with headlights for operation during the dim hours of dusk and dawn. Lastly, the operators themselves must be able to furnish proof of worker’s comp, general liability, and automotive liability insurance.

Given San Francisco’s position in the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s disheartening for many to see the city rally so hard against the implementation of delivery bots. Meanwhile, Idaho, Virginia, and other states have openly accepted the cutting-edge tech. In a world of drones and autonomous cars, San Francisco’s position is clearly at odds with a rapidly-emerging zeitgeist that will see automated robots taking a larger role in day-to-day life. Norman Yee, a member of the board that handed down the decision, justified it ultimately as a safety issue. He advised companies hoping to implement robots to find a way to do it that is “compatible with our values.”

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