San Francisco Tries To Ban The Autonomous Robot

Over the past couple of years, there has been an increase in demand for autonomous delivery robots. In the US, three states, Virginia, Idaho and Wisconsin, have even legally regulated the use of these robots in their streets. During such a time of technological revolution, city lawmaker Norman Yee proposed a legislation to ban the delivery robots from the streets of San Francisco.

This petition to ban the bots started after Marble, a delivery robot manufacturing company, proposed a bill to the state to regulate the robots and even started testing them on the streets (Figure 1). Supervisor Yee questioned the safety of the pedestrians walking with the robots and claims that they are a public safety hazard. However, these robots are semi-autonomous as a human operator will monitor the robot’s movements and makes sure it doesn’t cause a disturbance on the streets.

Figure 1: Marble Robot

These robots are seen similar to pedestrians on the streets and they cross roads like in Figure 1, reroute around any obstacle and travel only on sidewalks on limited speed. They are well equipped with cameras and lasers to detect the world around them and are equally visible to people on the streets. In spite of the complex technology, there have been a few safety hazards involving the robot. During one of it’s testing, Marble’s robot travelled a crowded street of the city, and stuck in befuddled environment the robot almost ran over a dog. No damage was reported.

Although few such incidents might make the robot appear hazardous to the public, this is such a new and complex technology that a few hiccups are bound to happen along the way. Meanwhile, the manufacturing companies such as Marble and Starship (already functioning in Wisconsin) are still hoping to pass the bill regulating the use of the bots in the state.

The ride-sharing services, Uber and Lyft, are also partly to blame for the struggles the autonomous bots companies are experiencing. San Francisco has had a few unpleasant relationships with these ride-sharing companies. After regulating the use of these ride-sharing services, the city saw 45,000 extra cars on the streets. Now, they issued subpoenas against the two companies as an investigation on the local impact and are hoping to streamline the use of the services.

Ever since these companies took over the streets, the city has been skeptical about allowing any technology or service that takes up space, even if it is a small 50-80 pound robot. Now, we must wait and see who will win the war. Norman Yee or the robots?

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