Starting July 1, robots will legally have the right to roam sidewalks and crosswalks in the state of Virginia.
Under this new law, robots weighing less than 50 pounds can roam autonomously on sidewalks, as long as their speed doesn’t exceed 10 mph. The robot must also be remotely monitored by a human (although it doesn’t need to be within sight of its human handler). And if it needs to cross the street at any point, it can’t jaywalk—it’s got to use crosswalks, Recode reports.
State legislators Ron Villanueva and Bill DeSteph developed the law in partnership with Starship Technologies. Starship is an Estonian-based company that makes a small, ground-based delivery robot. Its robots are currently being tested for food delivery with Postmates in Washington, D.C. and DoorDash in Redwood City, California. (We should note that Domino’s Pizza is also exploring the robotic delivery route. It’s using robots built by Australian startup Marathon Robotics, though.)
The bill has the backing of other tech companies, too. Amazon and Grubhub sent letters of support for the measure before Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed it into law last Friday. Amazon has been exploring and testing out drone-based deliveries in recent months. Grubhub has talked about efforts to test out robotic or drone-deliveries, as well.
While Virginia is the first U.S. state to pass such a law, Florida and Idaho are considering similar legislation. The city of San Francisco is also examining whether it’s appropriate to lay down some rules regarding robotic delivery persons on city sidewalks.
Enabling delivery robots, especially food delivery bots, could be critical in the future. In 2015, a pizza delivered by robot saved a man from committing suicide in San Jose, California. And between sidewalk-strutting robots and drones buzzing in the air, perhaps robotic delivery services could also improve problems such as traffic and smog … in addition to the widespread issue of hynger.