It seems that every delivery system has a “last mile” problem. Broadband internet had a similar problem. Fiber optic internet is also having that problem. Lately, Amazon and other delivery systems have been coping with the challenge.
The last mile problem refers to the delivery of services from a terminal or hub to the door of the user or customer. Each system has its own unique challenges. Amazon wants to use drones as this can be cost-effective down the road. A San Franscisco startup wants to deliver food with robots rolling down the street, and that is where their problems begin.
Marble is a startup developing a food delivery service which uses robots that roll down the sidewalk. These are chunky little things which look like a cooler on top of a wheelchair. It does not look like any classic android robot with elegance and good looks, or like cute R2D2, instead it looks much like an autonomous wheelchair-based delivery service. They are non-threatening, and children like looking at them as they roll along. The hipsters of San Franscisco, not so much.
One common issue with robots is that if they look humanoid, and are to be used in activities which are traditionally done by humans, there is some feeling of animosity among those who have been disenfranchised by technology. A lot of today’s automation, whether on the streets, or in factories has been seen to take away a job from a human and replaced with a robot. Although the truth is that the automated process is not only cost-effective, but humans have also not been willing to work these jobs. There is a lack of people who are qualified for these jobs, or who are willing to take them on. Automation is the only way to keep these processes rolling.
San Franciso Say No To Robots
The problem is that a San Francisco supervisor, Norman Yee, wants answers to questions first before these delivery robots take to the streets of San Francisco. These questions
include safety for children and pedestrians, the robot’s right to use of the sidewalk, and work force displacement. He wants these issues and other technological impact concerns discussed and regulated before robots are deployed. He asks why San Francisco has to be the guinea pig for the robots, why not do the testing somewhere else?
Yee has concerns which also stem from the early adoption of Lyft and Uber. These technologies practically crept into society’s consciousness and now that they are deeply embedded, it is now harder to regulate them. Since they are now big businesses, they have funds to lobby and over-rule local governments. They can defeat measures to regulate them.
In the meantime, while there are still no regulations, Marble is doing test deliveries. Since Silicon Valley is nearby, San Francisco has been an area noted for testing and adopting innovation. However, with the concern over runaway technology, that might soon change. Norman Yee drafted a legislation which would ban robots from sidewalks, just like skateboards and bikes.
Meanwhile, Marble’s competitor in the food delivery robot development, Starship Technologies, is in nearby Redwood City which welcomes the testing of delivery robots. This is one case where the success of a technology may depend on the location for development and testing.