To date no US state has yet given the go-ahead for goods deliveries by unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, but autonomous terrestrial robots have now been officially authorised to operate on the streets of Virginia’s cities from summer 2017.
Virginia has now entered the history books, in the Robotics section, becoming the first US state to pass legislation allowing robots to deliver packages. The governor of Virginia signed the new bill into law in late February, enabling delivery robots to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks across the state from 1 July onwards. Robots operating under the new law will be limited to a maximum weight of 50 pounds and allowed to travel at up to 10 miles per hour. Moreover, although the robots are supposed to be autonomous, the new law states that they must monitored remotely at all times by a human despatcher. And although the legislation has been passed at state level, individual municipalities in the state will be entitled to regulate how robots operate locally, for example setting a lower speed limit than the maximum enshrined in the law.
The new law will certainly benefit such startups as Dispatch, which operates in the San Francisco Bay area, San Jose-based Savioke and Starship Technologies, which has offices in Tallinn, Estonia, London, and Redwood City, California. Starship Technologies was moreover invited to contribute to drafting the law.
‘Last-mile delivery’ remains a costly item for logistics companies and retailers and although traditional automobile equipment manufacturers and other industrial firms are betting on drones to solve the problem, legislation on the subject does not seem to be making much progress. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, Mercedes unveiled its concept for a van equipped with drones to cover the ‘last mile’. This echoes Ford’s vision of a self-driving van geared up to send out drones on the final leg of the journey so as to reach destinations inaccessible by car – which the carmaker showcased recently at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
At this year’s CES, Nathalie Doré, CEO of L’Atelier BNP Paribas North America, took a close look at French startup TwinswHeel, which is tackling the problem of ‘last-mile delivery’ by using autonomous terrestrial robots.