San Francisco is considering a ban on delivery robots, those cute little boxes on wheels that are being tried out in Washington by Starship Industries and now in San Francisco by Marble. A supervisor used the same words I have used on TreeHugger in Sidewalks are for people. Should we let the robots steal them? April Glaser writes in Recode:
“Our streets and our sidewalks are made for people, not robots,” said Supervisor Yee in an interview with Recode. “This is consistent with how we operate in the city, where we don’t allow bikes or skateboards on sidewalks.”… Yee worries that the robots aren’t safe, saying that seniors, people with disabilities and children won’t be able move out of the way quickly enough as these machines roll down city sidewalks at walking speed.
“We care that our robots are good citizens of the sidewalk,” he says. “We’ve taken a lot of care from the ground up to consider their need to sense and intuit how people are going to react.”
A lot of people think these robots are a good idea. A Starship trouper tells the Guardian that in most cities, there is political support:
“If you’re a city councillor and you’ve got a device coming in to reduce congestion by taking vans off the roads, reduce pollution, increase convenience, and reduce cost while assisting the elderly and disabled by delivering groceries to their door, it ticks a lot of boxes.”
But as I wrote earlier,
I, for one, do not welcome our new sidewalk overlords, and suspect that they will take over the sidewalks the way cars took over the roads, that soon a few more feet of pavement might be taken away from pedestrians to provide space for robot lanes, and that once again, pedestrians will get screwed by the new technology.
We all know the story about how a hundred years ago, roads were shared. People walked in them, kids played in them, vendors set up pushcarts in them. Then along came the car, the invention of jaywalking, and people were pushed off the roads onto sidewalks. Then more cars came and they even took away most of the sidewalks to widen the roads.
One Roboticist working with Starship (maker of this smaller robot) says “We can get this technology out sooner than self-driving cars because it’s not going to hurt anybody. You can’t kill a pizza. You can ruin it but that’s not a disaster.” But you can interfere with older walkers and people with limited mobility. And really, we are already fighting over scraps, now we have to fight with robots?
Sidewalks are for people. As Miss Peggy Lee sang so many years ago, Pick up your Marbles and go home.