What Would Delivery Robots Mean for Public Space?

If companies like Startship and Marble get their way, sidewalks will play host to hundreds of rolling delivery bots. It's one solution to "last-mile" logistics, but are pedestrians prepared to give way?
April 26, 2017, 1pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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The concept of airborne delivery drones has been floating around for a while now. Julia Carrie Wong writes, "AmazonUPS and Google are all working on an airborne method, which certainly makes for splashy PR stunts. But in cities, ground-based delivery services are a more practical solution."

Underutilized sidewalks could be great highways for delivery robots, but the concept has its detractors. "'If there really were hundreds of little robots,' [University of New Mexico professor] Renia Ehrenfeucht said, 'they would stop functioning as sidewalks and start functioning more as bike lanes. They would stop being spaces that are available for playing games or sitting down.'"

According to the executive director of Walk San Francisco, "People live in urban centers not because they want to sit at home in their house and have their toothbrush delivered to their door, but because they have a pharmacy around the corner that they can walk to."

Once regulation becomes an issue, the robots might have already taken over. "But it will likely take longer for city dwellers to notice the impact of delivery robots on their day to day lives, said Ehrenfeucht, who said that regulation will likely only come after widespread adoption, as it did with other disruptive technologies such as Uber and Airbnb."

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Published on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 in The Guardian
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