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article imageVirginia passes historic law to allow robots to make deliveries

By Ken Hanly     Mar 2, 2017 in Technology
The Commonwealth of Virginia is the first US state to pass a law that allows delivery robots to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks throughout the state.
The governor signed the bill into law last Friday but the the legislation comes into effect July 1st. Ron Villanueva and Bill DeSteph sponsored the bill with the aid of Starship Technologies which developed the robot. Robots operating under the law must not be able to travel more than 10 miles per hours or weigh more than 50 pounds. They will be able to operate autonomously. While the law does not require the robots to be within the line of sight of the person controlling it, the operator must be able to remotely monitor it so that it can be taken over if it goes astray. The robot can be on the street only at a crosswalk.
The law allows municipalities to set regulations as to how robots can be operated locally and can even ban them. Representative Villanueva said: "There wasn’t push back [from legislators]. It was more like intrigue and curiosity about the technology, what the application would be, how it would benefit the citizens.” Robotic land delivery could soon have competition from aerial delivery by drones.. Amazon and Grubhub sent Virginia lawmakers letters of support for the legislation. While Starship Technologies worked to pass the law, it will also help other companies such as Marble and Dispatch who are also working in the same area. Similar legislation to that in Virginia is being considered in Idaho and Florida.
Starship Technologies is already putting its robots to work delivering food in Redwood City Calif. and Washington D.C. Starship Technologies is headquartered in London but its engineering operations are in Tallinn Estonia. The company was founded back in 2014 by Skype cofounders Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla. Heinla is CEO. Allan Martinson the COO manages sales, marketing and public affairs. The company received the Golden Computer award for Startup of the Year from the German technology magazine Computer Bild in August of 2016.
In Red Wood City and Washington DC the robots, called Postmates in Washington and DoorDash in Redwood City, are six-wheeled. a little under two feet tall, and weigh about 40 pounds. They travel about 4 miles per hour. While eventually the robots will travel on their own, for now handlers walk beside them to take notes on their performance and intervene if something goes wrong. There is no extra charge for the robotic delivery. Robots are expected to make about 10 deliveries a day.
Starship received $17.2 million in seed funding from Daimler AG, Shasta Ventures, Matrix Parters and others. Starship robots are already making deliveries in more than 40 European cities including London where they have been delivering food for Just Eat and Pronto since last summer.
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