(TNS) — BOISE — Delivery robots could be coming soon to a sidewalk near you.
The House Transportation and Defense Committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill adding definitions to Idaho law for “personal delivery devices” and “personal delivery device operators,” allowing the robots to operate on sidewalks and in crosswalks.
The bill was brought at the request of Starship Technologies, founded in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. The company’s business headquarters are in London and Estonia, and the company partnered with Mercedes-Benz last year on the “Robovan” — a van full of robots that a human driver can load and send out to complete deliveries.
Starship lobbyist David Catania spent much of the hearing answering safety-related questions about the robots, which have already been used for deliveries in a few European countries. Testing recently started in a few American cities as well. Most of their U.S. business has been food delivery, Catania said.
“We’ve had more than 3 million human interactions, all without incident,” he said.
The robots, which have six wheels and open up at the top to hold their cargo, are monitored by humans at all times, he said, don’t exceed 5 mph and have cameras that take 3,000 images a second and map out what’s in front of them. They are programmed to stop if something pops in their way. They have GPS tracking and two-way audio so the human operator can say something should someone try to steal one of the robots.
“At all times the devices are monitored by humans,” Catania said. “We have redundant capabilities from a technological perspective, from a communications perspective.”
The bill’s co-sponsors include Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, chairman of Senate Transportation, and Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer.
The bill does not preempt local robot control — local governments could still decide whether to allow them and how to regulate them. Since the law would allow them only on sidewalks and crosswalks, that rules out using them for deliveries in many rural communities in Idaho.
The only lawmaker to vote against sending the bill to the House floor was Rep. Melissa Wintrow.
“I’m the only conservative left in the Legislature on this issue,” said Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise.
©2017 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.