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New Hampshire Lawmakers Consider Delivery Bot Legislation

The House Transportation Committee is considering legislation to permit personal delivery devices to one day operate on all sidewalks and crosswalks and along the side of roadways in the state.

Generic delivery robot
(TNS) — State lawmakers got a peek into the future of automated delivery Tuesday, watching Roxo, a motorized bot created by Bedford inventor Dean Kamen’s company and FedEx that can deliver same-day goods and cargo to consumers and businesses.

The House Transportation Committee is considering legislation from Deputy Speaker Steve Smith, R- Charlestown, and Speaker Sherman Packard, R- Londonderry, to permit these personal delivery devices to one day operate on all sidewalks and crosswalks and along the side of roadways in New Hampshire.

FedEx developed the mobile robot with the help of DEKA Research & Development Corp., the Manchester company Kamen founded. This partnership helped the Queen City become the location for a pilot program and the first to test it out in August 2019.

Manchester adopted a special ordinance to allow testing to take place there.

The platform for the delivery robot is DEKA’s iBot, a motorized wheelchair capable of climbing stairs. The iBot has logged more than 10 million miles of operation.

“Everyone wants their packages yesterday,” said Kate Killory of FedEx, who led a demonstration of Roxo for the committee on the State House Plaza Tuesday in Concord.

Roxo also has also been tested on the streets of Memphis, Tenn., as well as in Plano and Frisco, Texas.

DEKA’s John Anastasiou, a lead engineer on the project, said the plan is to expand their use to “10 to 12” cities across the country.

Packard asked how well the bots can perform in wintry weather.

“One of the next steps is to test this in all weather climates; a wiper system has already been developed to clear the screen off of rain or snow,” Anastasiou said.

On Sunday morning in London, Roxo brought the game ball onto the field to open the National Football League game between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets.

In 2017, Virginia became the first state to permit personal deliver devices (PDDs) on its roadways. Since then, another 14 states have adopted similar enabling legislation, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin and Washington.

Roxo’s technology includes LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and multiple cameras, which allow the zero-emission, battery-powered bot to be aware of its surroundings. These features are coupled with machine-learning algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path and allow the bot to follow road and safety rules.

Earlier this year, the House panel decided to retain this bill (HB 116) so more work could be done on it.


Supporters offered an amendment Tuesday to permit devices like Roxo to travel up to 12 mph on sidewalks and as fast as 20 mph on roadways in New Hampshire.

The device would either have to be controlled by an operator on site or monitored by someone at all times.

The legislation further would create a lower class of “mobile carriers” that would weigh no more than 80 pounds. They would have to remain within 25 feet of the owner, could only travel on sidewalks and crosswalks and go no faster than 12.5 mph.

During a work session Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties had questions.

Rep. Matthew Pitaro, R- Allenstown, said the speed limits seemed pretty fast for the 4-foot, 2-inch high bot.

“A healthy runner on a sidewalk goes five to 10 miles an hour and this would be twice that fast,” Pitaro said.

Thomas Prasol, a lobbyist representing FedEx, said the limits approximate those in states that have legalized them. Some laws would allow the PPDs to go as fast as 25 mph on the roadway.

Elizabeth Bielecki, director of the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles, said the bill makes references to “roadways,” “public way” and “highways,” each of which has a different meaning in transportation law.

The legislation would require companies to have liability insurance of at least $100,000.

Committee Chairman Thomas Walsh, R- Hooksett, questioned whether that was enough insurance, given how costly personal injury accidents can be.

Also, Bielecki said, the bill doesn’t spell out what government agency would enforce these restrictions.

In 2019 the Legislature passed a state law putting the DMV in charge of rule-making for autonomous or self-driving automobiles in New Hampshire.

Bill advocates want to prevent all communities from banning the PPDs while allowing them to “reasonably restrict” their operation as appropriate.

“We are really looking for consistency,” Killory said.

The House panel has until mid-November to make a recommendation on the bill, which would come to the full House early in 2022.

©2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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