Delivery by robot? Virginia is ready for it

Photo courtesy: Starship Technologies

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is signing legislation that would make way for robots to deliver small packages and food to your door in the commonwealth.

Virginia is the first state to pass a law allowing for personal delivery devices on sidewalks and crosswalks.

Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) introduced the bill in the Senate. An identical bill was introduced in the House by Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach). DeSteph says it was drafted in collaboration with delivery robot company Starship Technologies.

Starship Technologies was launched by two Skype co-founders, Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.

The company says the robots reduce congestion and pollution in cities and neighborhoods, while increasing convenience and reducing cost for customers and businesses alike.

The devices can travel a two-mile radius and carry the equivalent of two grocery bags. They can travel at about 4 mph, or the same pace as a brisk walk.

In a release, Starship Technologies says its technology eliminates the largest inefficiency in the delivery chain — the last mile.

“Instead of expensive and time-consuming door-to-door delivery, retailers can ship the goods in bulk to a local hub, then the robot fleet completes the delivery to the shopper’s door for a fraction of the cost,” the release said.

“I’m really excited about it,” said DeSteph, who authored a bill on autonomous vehicles last year. “I saw this as another option, another opportunity to have Virginia be the first.”

Quickness RVA General Manager Jess I

Jess Izen is general manager of bicycle courier service Quickness RVA. She says it’s an interesting concept, but she doesn’t want the delivery industry to lose that human touch.

 

“As a local business we’re really focused on the interaction between people,” she said. “We’re used to talking to each other. We’re used to seeing bikers around on the streets. I personally wouldn’t want to see a bunch of small robots moving along the sidewalk.”

Izen says she doesn’t think she’d incorporate robots into her business.

“I don’t think we would want to for the same reason we don’t do cars. We’re really focused on bikes because they’re efficient, quick vehicles,” she said.

DeSteph anticipates it’ll still be one to three more years until we see the delivery robots on Virginia sidewalks.

“It’s not revolutionary technology. It’s evolutionary technology. It’s the next step,” he said.

McAuliffe will sign the legislation at 4 p.m. Thursday at Virginia Beach Town Center. It will go into effect July 1.

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