- The Virginia House of Delegates approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow heavier electric personal delivery devices, like Amazon's Scout, to operate on the commonwealth's roads and sidewalks. The bill, which already passed the Virginia State Senate, will now head to committee to resolve minor differences between the two versions, then to the desk of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
- The bill allows the robots to travel on sidewalks, or the shoulder of a road with a 25 mph speed limit if no sidewalk is available, and increases their weight limit from 50 pounds to 500 pounds. The House version of the bill also removes the delivery robots from a list of motorized vehicles that city and county governments are permitted to ban from crosswalks and sidewalks. That list includes scooters and e-bikes.
- In 2017, Virginia legalized electric personal delivery robots of up to 50 pounds to operate on sidewalks. That legislation, the first in the nation, was praised at the time as "pioneering" by robot delivery operator Starship Technologies.
Amazon's six-wheeled Scout robot is still in the earlier stages of testing in Irvine, CA and Snohomish County, WA, but the company wrote in a blog post last August that it has completed thousands of shipments already. Amazon has described Scout as a "fully-electric delivery system," which is the size of a cooler and autonomously follows a specified delivery route.
Democratic Virginia State Sen. Dave Marsden who first introduced the legislation, said during a recent meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee that the bill was "brought to us by our friends at Amazon." During that same meeting, Brian Moore, a senior public policy manager at Amazon, said allowing its robots would help Amazon meet its climate goals while innovating delivery methods.
This legislation is significant as Amazon is currently building its second headquarters (HQ2) in Arlington County, VA. Having already pledged $20 million in affordable housing near the HQ2 site, the company is clearly flexing its muscles and looking to have influence on other areas of public policy.
Local governments are seeing a slow growth in delivery robots, which could accelerate if similar bills are passed in other state legislatures across the country. The Washington, DC Council passed a bill in 2018 permitting further deployment of delivery robots, while Postmates unveiled its own delivery robots that same year with a pledge to deploy them in Los Angeles before a wider roll-out.
The federal government is also advancing the deployment of delivery robots and other small autonomous vehicles (AV). Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted AV company Nuro with a first-of-its-kind temporary exemption from certain federal requirements on low-speed driverless vehicles. The exemption applies to Nuro's R2, a zero-occupant, low-speed delivery vehicle.