There’s a future in which San Francisco’s streets could be teeming with small, adorable robots on a mission to deliver your take-out food. But some city officials are so wary of what this could do to jobs and sidewalks that they’ve regulated the robots into near oblivion, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Companies like Starship Technologies make robots that look like fancy food coolers for delivery companies including Postmates and Doordash. The robots have six wheels and in theory would be able to roll right up to your door. In San Francisco, the robots are still being tested, although “few even exist” in the first place, Carolyn Said and Benny Evangelista write for the Chronicle, which makes the extensive regulations even more hilarious.
Earlier this week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed regulations that will limit each delivery company to three robots each. But, the entire city can only have nine robots. It gets better for comedy and worse for the robots: the robots are banished to “industrial areas where almost no one lives,” can’t travel faster than 3 miles per hour and must be accompanied by a human monitor at all times, Said and Evangelista write.
Those regulations are likely the result of concern over the impact of automation on jobs and over pedestrian safety. The Chronicle mentions that supporters of more strict regulations include pedestrian advocacy groups intent on preventing sidewalk crowding and to “protect seniors, children and disabled people.”
That makes sense. But a world where robots roam the streets with your Pad Thai and automate some traditional human labor is not just likely, but imminent, so being able to test the robots and make them as safe as possible is essential. That’s something Bob Doyle, a spokesman for the Association for Advancing Automation Association echoed to the Chronicle, likening the new laws to back in the day when people had to walk in front of newly developed cars waving a red flag to make sure drivers saw them. That goes to show that new technology has always scared many people, often for good reason. But other places have okayed the robots, including states like Florida, Ohio and Idaho.
The broader question is how to navigate a world (and streets) in which robots are doing jobs once done by humans. The supervisors who created the regulations are considering “guiding principles” to help create laws around automation and new technology. These include “making sure they provide a net common good, don’t divert resources or infrastructure from people, give equal access to vulnerable populations,” among others.
Read more here.