Starship Technologies spokesman David Catania discusses how delivery robots could operate in Arizona if the state Legislature passes House Bill 2422. Sean Logan/azcentral.com
Small robots could deliver groceries, take-out meals and other small items under regulations being considered by the Arizona Legislature.
The robots could travel on sidewalks and crosswalks like pedestrians. They would have to weigh less than 100 pounds without cargo and travel slower than 10 miles per hour, according to the proposal.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the bill, House Bill 2422, on an 8-0 vote Wednesday. It now goes to the full House for consideration.
The sponsor, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she was inspired by delivery services she saw during a legislative conference last year in Boston.
She researched companies that provide such services in the U.S. and the handful of states that have passed legislation to allow it before crafting her own proposal.
“My opinion is that if you allow these machines and there is no regulation whatsoever, there is a potential for hazards with pedestrians on the streets, cars,” Townsend said.
What the bill would allow
The bill allows “personal delivery device operators” to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks, and gives the devices, or robots, the same “rights and duties” as pedestrians.
Those rights mean the devices would be protected from drivers who hit them in crosswalks. The duties would mean they have to abide by traffic laws when crossing streets.
The bill also requires the operators to maintain at least $100,000 in liability insurance, and exempts the robots from motor-vehicle registration and insurance laws. Violators of the rules could face $500 fines.
Robots in operation
One such robot owned by an Estonian company called Starship Technologies was at the Capitol for a demonstration. The six-wheeled, 50-pound robot rolled around the courtyard between the House and Senate at the Capitol as bystanders and schoolchildren on field trips gawked.
Starship has about 150 robots operating in the U.S., mostly running deliveries for DoorDash and Postmates delivery services in California and Washington, D.C. It also runs limited operations on a corporate campus in Silicon Valley, spokesman David Catania said.
The company has supported similar legislation in other states, including Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio, he said, adding that Starship would prefer to see legislation before approaching potential customers in Arizona.
“We don’t want to be operating and asking for forgiveness,” he said.
Townsend said she tried to write her legislation broad enough to not prohibit any of Starship’s multiple competitors from coming to Arizona.
The robots can operate autonomously, much like self-driving cars operate on roadways. Workers can also monitor them to ensure they are on track and take control as they cross roadways. They have sensors to prevent running into people, Catania said.
Robot laws elsewhere
Similar legislationadvanced last week in Utah. In December, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to require permits for delivery bots. Marble, a company similar to Starship with larger delivery robots, is based in that city.
Gov. Doug Ducey has previously said Arizona should remain open to new technologies without prohibitive regulations. He invited ride-share company Uber to bring its self-driving cars to Arizona without requiring any special permit or provide any public reporting of their activities.
But even with a permissive governor, Catania said Starship officials believe regulation is needed.
“Do you want a 500-pound device on your sidewalk with no speed limit?” he said.
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