San Francisco will allow delivery company Postmates to begin testing its four-wheeled autonomous delivery vehicle, Serve. The city will permit the vehicles to run in certain areas with low pedestrian volumes, allowing only three of the devices to run at a time, San Francisco Policy and Communications Director Rachel Gordon told Smart Cities Dive in a statement.
Postmates and the city worked together on regulatory guidelines for the delivery robot, including a 3 mph speed limit; a weekday delivery window of 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. PST; and a mandatory human escort within 30 feet at all times, according to Gordon.
The Serve robot is complete with a "face" and a soft ring to signal movement and prevent any sidewalk intrusion. Serve was first revealed in December and includes a cargo container that can be locked, in addition to a touchscreen and cameras for customers to use for interactions.
Delivery robots were initially banned from San Francisco in 2017. To reintroduce the robots on city streets, Postmates has worked with the city since then to determine the regulations that Serve must follow during the test period. Public safety is a top priority for the pilot program, according to Gordon.
The city will use the pilot program to monitor potential hazards and risks during the test period. "San Francisco is a compact, dense city with a growing population, and any time we try something new like this we need to be mindful of that reality," she said.
To help create safer technology for city streets, Serve's "social-aware-navigation" technology was tested at senior living communities in Northern California, helping the technology learn to interact with elderly and disabled individuals on sidewalks.
The Serve pilot program could be one of many delivery pilots in the near future. The city will consider other permit applications that meet the same criteria Postmates is following, Gordon said.
Beyond potential safety hazards, human job replacement is another concern surrounding autonomous delivery vehicles. Serve will work alongside its existing fleet and workforce, according to a Postmates blog post. City scapes can be difficult arenas for delivery drivers to navigate due to congestion and limited curb space. Serve could help drivers by delivering a consumer's burrito or food order from the driver’s vehicle to the customer's door.
Amazon has also been testing a delivery vehicle outside their headquarters in Washington. The six-wheeled "Scout" vehicle was tested in the area's rainy weather terrain, enduring one of the area’s largest snowstorms in a decade, and even made a couple furry friends along the way with neighborhood pets, according to an Amazon blog post. The company also deployed Scout earlier this month in Irvine, CA. A small number of the devices will transport deliveries just like a regular Amazon package.
Other players like FedEx are also getting in on the autonomous delivery game. The company began a pilot program for its same-day delivery robot "Roxo" in Manchester, NH earlier this month. FedEx will soon expand Roxo’s services to Memphis, TN. Companies like Pizza Hut and Target are already on board to use the device for deliveries.