Are Delivery Robots on Their Way to a Neighborhood Near You?

Amazon and FedEx are developing bots that would travel on city streets and sidewalks. The companies are also working behind the scenes on legislative efforts that would help them deploy the technology in the future.

August 30, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


Food Delivery Robot

paul.wasneski / Flickr

"Both Amazon and FedEx are developing delivery robots. FedEx’s bot, which is called Roxo and looks like a small refrigerator, has completed on-road tests in four cities. Scout, built to deliver Prime packages, also is testing in four cities. The companies present similar visions: A delivery van full of robots would arrive in a neighborhood, and robots would travel the ‘last mile’ to customers’ doorsteps without human aid," writes Aarian Marshall.

The companies are backing bills this year in more than a dozen states that would allow delivery robots on public roads and sidewalks. The legislation is not consistent, with different regulations about where the robots could operate and weight limits. But observers say that shaping legislation early on is a way to establish certainty while the new technologies are developed.

However, concerns about public safety, particularly on sidewalks, and cities' inability to craft their own regulations for the robots have emerged. Lawmakers and lobbyists say that Amazon and FedEx seem open to discussions about changes to the bills. "Scott Mooneyham, of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, contrasts that approach with the early actions of scooter companies, which became notorious for dropping their electric devices on public sidewalks without giving local officials prior warning," says Marshall.

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