Washington State is expected to become the eighth state to allow personal delivery robots on sidewalks statewide today after Governor Jay Inslee signs House Bill 1325. The signing is expected to occur sometime this afternoon, creating a framework to regulate personal delivery devices across Washington.
Private companies have been pressing hard at the state level in a campaign to clear the way for robotic delivery. Helping lead the charge in Washington was Starship Technologies, a technology and service provider specializing in autonomous last-mile and local deliveries.
"We'd like to thank Representative Shelley Kloba, Senator Marko Liiasand Governor Jay Inslee for their support on this bill," said Lex Bayer, CEO of Starship Technologies, in a prepared statement. "They appreciate how technology will shape our future and the positive impact delivery robots will have on the people of Washington, local businesses and the environment. We look forward to becoming a valued part of the community."
Proponents of delivery robots tout reduced congestion and pollution -- delivery robots are primarily electric. The robots autonomously navigate sidewalks, avoid obstacles, and map their environment (see: SLAM) using a combination of computer vision, GPS, and machine learning.
For local businesses, there's also a potential competitive benefit. Services like Starship's can be utilized by local storefronts that otherwise wouldn't have a delivery infrastructure, potentially helping them regain an edge from delivery giants like Amazon.
But skeptics are quick to point out that robots crowd sidewalks. There hasn't been a major safety incident involving delivery robots and pedestrians, but some fear letting robots loose on urban walkways could result in accidents.
So far, those in favor of delivery robots seem to be making steady progress. States that don't actively legislate personal delivery devices risk being caught off guard. Virginia was the first state to pass legislation leaving an opening for delivery robots back in 2017.
Idaho, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Utan, and Arizona have followed suit.