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Delivery robots may find San Francisco sidewalks off-limits

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 5/17/2017 Mike Murphy

Cue the theme to “Jaws.”© Provided by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Cue the theme to “Jaws.”

Robots may be coming for our jobs (and our shins), but one San Francisco politician is taking a stand — on the sidewalk.

San Francisco Supervisor Norman Yee introduced legislation Tuesday that would ban autonomous delivery robots from city sidewalks, largely for safety concerns.

A number of startup companies, including Dispatch, Marble and Starship Technologies, are currently testing robot deliveries of meals and packages in San Francisco, and their use has been legalized in two Silicon Valley cities as well as Washington D.C. Virginia and Idaho recently passed legislation allowing autonomous robot deliveries, and Wisconsin and Florida are considering similar laws.

Read: Delivery robots are grabbing attention on city streets

But Yee said sidewalks are for walking. “I want to keep our sidewalks safe for people,” Yee told the San Francisco Chronicle. Yee worries seniors and people with disabilities could be unable to move quickly enough to avoid the robots, which move at about 4 mph and range in size from a cooler to that of a mini-fridge.

Yee said he was also concerned that the robots could take away human delivery jobs, and that their cameras raise privacy concerns.

“Our streets and our sidewalks are made for people, not robots,” Yee told Recode, in a separate interview. “This is consistent with how we operate in the city, where we don’t allow bikes or skateboards on sidewalks.”

While the proposal was hailed by some pedestrian advocates, robot backers said the law would be short-sighted, and that robots could help alleviate the city’s traffic problems. “It doesn’t make any sense for San Francisco leaders to be going backwards like this,” Paul Mackie, a spokesman for Virginia’s Mobility Lab, told the Chronicle.

Also see: Bill Gates’ modern take on ‘The Graduate’: Just one word...robotics

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