Four hundred years ago, it was home to the first permanently settled English colony in the New World and now, it is home to the first legal delivery robots. That’s right — Virginia has passed landmark legislation that will allow delivery robots like those from Starship Technologies make moves on sidewalks and crosswalks throughout the state. The law will go into effect on July 1 just in time for you to get your independence day festivity needs delivered by a rolling bot.
Virginia congressmen Ron Villanueva and Bill DeSteph worked with Starship Technologies to draft the bill, which will certainly benefit the Estonian robotics company as it pushes to bring its bots to the masses. Indeed, Starship has been trying to make moves in the U.S. for quite some time now, recently announcing a pilot program with Postmates and DoorDash that would employ their mechanical fleet to make deliveries. In this program, however, the robots wouldn’t be entirely autonomous, as a human operator would still oversee their general movements.
The Virginian law, however, allows robots to move completely on their own.
Of course, a number of limitations have been put in place to ensure that self-driving robots aren’t barreling over pedestrians in Virginia — for example, robots can only go up to 10 miles per hour and cannot weigh more than 50 pounds. And while a human does not have to keep a physical eye on the situation, he or she will need to be able to remotely monitor the bot and intervene should something go wrong.
And local governments within the state will be able to determine exactly how the robots can operate. If, for some reason, a municipality wants to keep the bots out altogether, that will be their decision to make. However, it doesn’t seem as though that will present a problem. “There wasn’t push back [from legislators],” Villanueva said in an interview with Recode. “It was more like intrigue and curiosity about the technology, what the application would be, how it would benefit the citizens.”
Idaho and Florida may soon pass similar laws to Virginia’s, so who knows? We could soon be sharing our sidewalks with Starship Technologies’ robots, and others too.
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