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Delivery Robots Could Soon Roam Moscow, Idaho

The food delivery robots used on the University of Idaho campus could soon find their way to city streets under a proposal being considered by Moscow city leaders. The one-year agreement would only allow 30 of the devices to operate.

An example of food delivery robots.
(TNS) — A one-year agreement with the city of Moscow would include conditions on the food delivery robots that could begin to venture off of the University of Idaho campus in the future.

These robots began operating at the UI in March 2022 and there are currently 15 in use. Customers can use an app to order food and drinks from restaurants on campus and have the robots deliver those items to them. Once the robot arrives, customers can unlock the robot's lid using their app and retrieve their goods.

The city of Moscow has prepared a one-year license agreement with the manufacturer, Starship Technologies, that would recognize their ability to let these robots travel on the public right-of-way off campus. This was discussed during the Moscow Administrative Committee meeting Monday.

Moscow Deputy City Supervisor Cody Riddle said state law does not allow the city to prohibit these robots from traveling on the sidewalks, but Starship Technologies did agree to several conditions as part of the license agreement.

It limits the number of robots to 30 and prohibits them from traveling downtown during special events like the Moscow Farmers Market.

The agreement also caps their speed limit to 4 mph, although Riddle said their speed has not caused issues thus far.

"If you've seen them, they honestly yield to pedestrians and very often are going much much slower than that," Riddle said.

Andrew Tucker, an operations lead for Starship Technologies, said during Monday's meeting the robots have the ability to go faster, but the company chooses to limit their speed in the interest of safety.

According to information provided by Starship Technologies, the robots are equipped with cameras and radar, and are constantly monitored by a remote operator. They are able to identify objects within their vicinity and can maneuver out of the way, slow down or come to a complete stop.

According to a draft of the agreement with the city, the robots must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles. There also must be a 24-hour hotline to field complaints and requests for removal of the devices.

As part of the agreement, the robots are not allowed to deliver alcohol.

Committee member Hailey Lewis asked Tucker about the potential size of the robots' service area if they begin to move off campus.

"That's really a limitation that is up to the customer base, I suppose," he said, later adding that battery power and weather are also limitations.

As an example, he said it would be possible for a store like BookPeople in downtown Moscow to have the robots deliver books to a customer's house, a task where time is less of a factor than a food delivery.

The robots are currently stored in the back of the VandalStore on campus.

Starships gives stores and restaurants the technology to monitor when the robot is nearby and ready to be filled with items. The customer pays the delivery fee.

A public hearing for the license agreement fee will be on the Feb. 6 City Council agenda.

©2023 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.