Robot Ban On San Francisco Sidewalks Gets Zapped

Delivery robots won’t be banned from the sidewalks, but a new set of proposed regulations hopes to push the right buttons.

Image: ‘Star Wars’, 20th Century Fox

A proposal banning delivery robots from San Francisco sidewalks was popular among everyone who does not own vested stock shares in a tech company, but it wasn’t popular enough to pass the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. That’s why the proposal’s author, District 7 Sup. Norman Yee, computed a new response that won’t necessarily ban automated delivery devices from sidewalks, but will at least slow their rollout.

Under the new watered-down version of the ban, which will go before a public safety committee next Wednesday, companies using delivery robots will be required to obtain permits and restrict the robots to sidewalks in Production, Distribution and Repair districts (PDRs) like South of Market and Potrero Hill. The units will be limited to speeds of two miles per hour, and will require a human be present to monitor them — which seems to eliminate the purpose of a delivery robot, but what do I know.

“This has never been a debate about innovation for me,” Sup. Yee said in a release. “We can support technology, but still uphold our basic fundamental values that public spaces are for public use. From day one, my interest has been to protect the limited public spaces we have for our most vulnerable pedestrian populations – seniors, children, and people with disabilities.”

So unlike bicycles and Segways, robots will be allowed to use public pedestrian spaces on sidewalks. The robots could potentially be pretty bulky, as anyone who’s ordered a small item off Amazon can attest. And will the robots be allowed to monitor and record everyone and everything on the city’s sidewalks for surveillance and targeted advertising purposes? (Hint: It’s the tech industry. Of course the robots will monitor and record everything.)

Sup. Peskin, author of the legislation that banned Segways from San Francisco sidewalks, predicted that a full ban on sidewalk robots would eventually make it to a San Francisco ballot. But that assessment may be based on Artificial Intelligence.  

View Comments