Remember how the Board of Supervisors was talking about banning all sidewalk delivery robots two years ago? Well that didn't happen, and instead, like with the scooter debacle, the city has simply come up with permitting system.
As TechCrunch reports today, the first delivery app company to get a permit to test some robots on SF sidewalks is Postmates. The company unveiled its anthroporphic rolling cart robot Serve back in December, which is a semi-autonomous, lidar-equipped device that can carry up to 50 pounds of stuff for up to 25 miles on a single charge. SF's Department of Public Works has now granted Postmates a permit to test three of these guys for 180 days (six months).
The city's regulations were hammered out in part by Supervisor Norman Yee, who led the charge in 2017 to ban the robots altogether after several companies tried testing them on city streets without seeking permits.
Postmates' Serve bots are partly overseen by remote human "pilots," and if one is causing trouble, each comes with a Help button that can be pressed by a passerby. (No prank potential there!)
A spokesperson for the company issued a statement saying, "We’ve been eager to work directly with cities to seek a collaborative and inclusive approach to robotic deployment that respects our public rights of way, includes community input, and allows cities to develop thoughtful regulatory regimes."
While a couple of other companies, including Marble, are also awaiting permitting, the city has said that only three companies are likely to hold permits at any given time — with a cap of nine delivery robots operating in the city at any one time.
Down in Irvine, Amazon recently deployed its six-wheeled Scout delivery robots in a similar test situation.
So, watch your step while cruising down Valencia Street — you may end up tripping over a Serve, and you don't want to see what happens when those big dumb eyes turn angry.*
*(JK. I do not know if the robots have an angry mode.)