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Supervisor seeks robot delivery ban in SF

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Supervisor Norman Yee is proposing to ban robot delivery services, citing a danger to senior citizens and people with disabilities. (Courtesy Ricky Flip/Dispatch)
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Adios, R2-D2.

San Francisco may pull the plug on ground-based robot delivery services, a nascent industry with startups abounding locally.

Supervisor Norman Yee plans to introduce legislation today at the Board of Supervisors banning autonomous delivery services on sidewalks and public right-of-ways in San Francisco, he told the San Francisco Examiner.

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Marble, Dispatch and Starship are some startups with so-called robot deliveries operating locally, and all would be affected by such a ban, Yee’s office said.

“I’m doing this because I do care about safety, and it’s something that could endanger our pedestrians, especially ones who are vulnerable,” Yee said, citing seniors and people with disabilities.

Violators of the robot ban legislation, if passed, would be subject to criminal, civil and administrative penalties.

The ban follows an effort by Yee to craft regulations for the robot delivery services, which he announced at the end of February, as small delivery robots could be seen roaming Mission Street that month and regulations to govern them do not yet exist.

The small cubic robots seen roaming were from startup Dispatch, and are akin in size to a kitchen garbage can with wheels. The bots can be unlocked via a mobile phone app to retrieve packages from within.

Yee said he met with various robot delivery companies, and even had one visit his office during discussions. He also met with city departments to weigh different options, but there were concerns that regulations would be unwieldy, he said.

He said he feared a future with delivery robots swarming sidewalks. “What does it do when we have a lot of them, especially for seniors?”

“I’m getting to an age when it’s not as easy to maneuver when I walk,” he said. “I can imagine someone older than me, you can’t just make a split second decision and move out of the way.”

Cathy DeLuca, interim executive director of nonprofit Walk SF, said the organization backs Yee’s legislation.

Though the Examiner referenced the famous Star Wars robot R2-D2 when discussing the legislation, she said the better example was the more recent Pixar animated robot, Wall-E, who inhabits a future where humanity roamed the world in floating movement devices.

In that example, people “didn’t walk anymore,” she said.

“We call them side ‘walks,’ for walking,” DeLuca said. “We’d like to see them stay that way.”

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