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Self-Driving Delivery Robots Might Soon Be Bringing You Take-Out Food

Julia Ritchey
Starship Technologies demonstrates their personal delivery technology at the Utah State Capitol.

Imagine a Coleman’s size cooler — the big one typically taken on a camping trip. Now imagine that cooler with six wheels, a brake light and traveling down a sidewalk without a human operator.

That scenario could soon be a reality under a proposed bill by Rep. Stewart Barlow, who demonstrated the technology in a committee hearing last week.

“We have one coming up now, so you can take a look at this," he said. "So these things haul, they do about four miles per hour.”


Autonomous personal delivery devices are already used to deliver food and groceries in a handful of states.

Because the bots would technically fall under the category of automobile, Barlow’s bill would modify traffic code to allow them on sidewalks.

David Catania, head of public affairs for Starship Technologies, a California and Estonian-based company that makes personal delivery bots, also testified.

He said most have a range of 3 miles, can memorize a delivery path using GPS and yield to pedestrians.

“The device sees you before you see it, and is therefore able to avoid obstacles," he told lawmakers.

The bill got its first green light in the House Transportation Committee.

About five states have passed legislation allowing them, including Ohio and Wisconsin. They’re mostly employed in what’s called “last-mile delivery” for things like food and packages.


Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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