Expansion of autonomous delivery robots clears Senate

An autonomous delivery robot on the campus of University of California Berkeley. Photo by Ganbaruby | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

A proposal to expand the role of mini self-driving delivery devices, including allowing them to be on Arizona highways, passed its first hurdle on Wednesday. 

Senate Bill 1305 would expand on an already existing law that allows autonomous delivery robots to share sidewalks with pedestrians. 

The expansion, proposed by Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, adds to the areas that the devices are allowed to operate. It also expands the definition of a “personal delivery device.” 

The new definition scraps restrictions that limit the devices to sidewalks and cap their weight to 200 pounds, excluding cargo. 

“They don’t get tired, they don’t get drunk, they don’t get distracted,” Michael Gardner, a lobbyist for FedEx, said of the autonomous devices while supporting the bill in a Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee hearing last month. 

Under current state law, the devices are allowed to go up to speeds of 12 mph on sidewalks. The proposal that Livingston introduced, and that is backed by FedEx and Amazon, would allow the devices to go up to 20 mph on the shoulder of a highway. 

The bill also largely prohibits cities and counties from regulating the devices, though it does allow localities to establish maximum speeds of less than 12 mph in a pedestrian area in certain circumstances. However, the maximum speed can’t be less than seven miles per hour. 

SB1305 also gives cities and counties the ability to prohibit the devices in specific zones during certain hours to “protect public health and safety.” 

The bill further outlines additional ways that the devices have to be operated in the state. 

Any company that plans to use them has to make sure that the device is clearly marked with its information, a braking system that allows them to come to a complete stop and $100,000 in liability insurance. 

All of the devices would also have to come with lights that allow them to be visible at night. 

Amazon debuted its own delivery robots last year

The bill passed out of the Senate unanimously and now heads to the House of Representatives. If it passes that chamber, Gov. Doug Ducey will decide whether it becomes law. 

Virginia’s legislature recently approved a similar measure, and Utah is looking at doing something similar.