DC Could Become Test Spot for Robot Deliveries

Drones are out, but self-driving delivery robots are in

Starship Technologies

Self-driving delivery robots could soon share the sidewalk with pedestrians and pets in the District.

A proposed bill, if passed, would allow "personal delivery devices" on sidewalks and crosswalks in D.C., except within the central business district. 

Starship Technologies, the company behind these still-unnamed robots, started testing in London earlier this month. Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis launched the tech startup in 2014 and plan to test their robots in about 10 other cities in the U.S.

"All deliveries today are time consuming and inefficient, polluting and creating congestion on the street," Allan Martinson, the chief operating officer of Starship Technologies, wrote in an email. "An average family spends an hour per day on shopping trips. We would like to give people this one hour back."

According to their website, the robots can deliver small packages or groceries around a three-mile radius, which can take five to 30 minutes. At the moment, the robots can go 4 mph and carry up to 25 pounds. 

Nine cameras livestream video to operators, and a detection system will stop the robot if someone walks in front of it. The electrically powered robots have a battery life of 2-2.5 hours, or up to 10 miles round trip.

Users would order delivery through a smartphone app, which can also monitor the location of the robot. 

"The main goal of the testing is to develop a better understanding of interaction between humans and the robots," Martinson wrote. 

The robot currently does not have a name, so people are encouraged to submit name ideas by email to Starship Technologies at name@starship.xyz

Councilwoman Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) held a demonstration Wednesday, using one such robot to send a bill concerning the deliveries -- known as the Personal Delivery Device Act of 2016 -- to the office of Council Secretary Nyasha Smith.

The bill says the robots can't go above 10 mph and must weigh less than 50 pounds without cargo. They must also have an operator that can take over and follow all traffic rules, like stopping at crosswalks.

As chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, Cheh has introduced legislation on unmanned technology in the past. She introduced a bill on self-driving cars in 2012.

Contact Us