Delivery robots divide Vision Zero committee

As San Francisco grapples with emergent technologies and new transportation options, Supervisor Norman Yee wants get to ahead of autonomous delivery robots before they get out of control.

At the Vision Zero Committee of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority on Tuesday, Yee sought the votes of his fellow committee members, supervisors Aaron Peksin and Ahsha Safai, to endorse his legislation at the Board of Supervisors to not allow the delivery robots to operate on the sidewalks.

The committee though decided to send the resolution to the full transportation authority without recommendation.

Yee cited safety concerns for anyone using the sidewalk, including pedestrians, seniors and the disabled:

“We value that week our sidewalks for people.”

Yee added that The City must create innovated laws to keep up with today’s innovations:

“This legislation is saying that we want our sidewalks to be safe for people to walk on.”

Safai, who did not support Yee’s resolution, said while he supports pedestrian safety, he wants to see The City work with the companies in crafting policies surrounding the delivery robots:

“I also think it’s important to allow the conversation to move forward and that we have the ability to craft a policy here to protect pedestrians and allows for research and technology to move forward.”

Yee responded by saying that he is not stopping companies to continue to research, but that he wanted companies to find a more “innovative” way of using autonomous delivery robots without having to use the sidewalks.

Harrison Shih, speaking on behalf of San Francisco-based Marble, said the company, which manufactures and operates delivery robots, has worked with supervisors and a number of community organzations, discussing concerns about safety.

Jim Lazarus with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, who is against the resolution, supported the pilot program that requires companies to have permits with the Department of Public Works in order to operate autonomous delivery robots.

Danny Thomas Vang, a San Francisco State University student who is blind, said the size of the delivery robot and the width of the street must be taken into consideration when it comes to safety:

“It’s my concern that parents who use strollers or people who use disability devices such as wheelchairs or wide canes, or travelers who use luggage, will they be able to effectively navigate through the sidewalk with these devices on their path.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who supports Yee’s resolution and brought forth legislation to ban the use of Segways on sidewalks, said:

“I think it’s good to take a timeout and make sure that we don’t end up in a situation where it’s too late and we can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”

CORRECTION The original story named a San Francisco-based delivery service robot company as Marble Electronics. The company is just called Marble. SFBay regrets the error.