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Robotics Businesses Government Transportation Hardware Technology

'Our Streets Are Made For People': San Francisco Mulls Ban On Delivery Robots (theguardian.com) 219

Norman Yee, an American elected official in San Francisco, has recently proposed legislation that would prohibit autonomous delivery robots -- which includes those with a remote human operator -- on public streets in the city. In a statement provided to Recode, Yee said, "our streets and our sidewalks are made for people, not robots." He also worries that many delivery jobs would disappear. The proposed legislation is causing a headache for one high-tech startup in particular. The tech company is called Marble, which uses bots fitted with camera and ultrasonic sensors to deliver small packages and food within a one or two mile radius. The delivery robots themselves travel at a walking pace and use cameras and sensors to avoid pedestrians and navigate pavements. The Guardian reports: San Francisco police commander Robert O'Sullivan is in favor of the legislation, fearing the robots could harm children, the elderly, and those with limited mobility. "If hit by a car, they also have the potential of becoming a deadly projectile," he told a local TV station. Marble CEO Matt Delaney says these fears are unfounded. "We care that our robots are good citizens of the sidewalk," he says. "We've taken a lot of care from the ground up to consider their need to sense and intuit how people are going to react."
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'Our Streets Are Made For People': San Francisco Mulls Ban On Delivery Robots

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  • buggy whips (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:13PM (#54540149)

    We must stop the impending automobile revolution. It worry that many buggy whip manufacturing jobs may disappear. In addition, they startle the horses.

    • If cheap global labor were available at the time that automobiles were invented, you actually think they would have used domestic labor as they did?
      • Ask the Asian and African guys who built the railroads 50 years earlier.
        • Not an accurate comparison. It was expensive to get those people over, and dangerous. Nothing compared to the quick and easy methods companies have today.
      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        Ford paid something like double the going wage - he wanted his pick of workers.

        • Not really. Any idiot could do those jobs after being trained. He just found that workers that could afford to eat three meals a day were able to stick around longer, cutting down on the costs of training 5 people to keep 1 around for more than a few months.
    • Re: buggy whips (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fermion ( 181285 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:50PM (#54540311) Homepage Journal
      Our roads are made for people, not horses. We can deal with skateboards and unicycles and bicycles, but not your new fangled horse carriages.

      What is truly stupid here is that a self driving car is just a drone with a person in it. Why are they allowing Uber to test self driving cars, but have a problem with drones? Aren't they hey both going to clog the streets?

      • Re: buggy whips (Score:4, Insightful)

        by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:59PM (#54540353) Homepage

        Our roads are made for people, not horses. We can deal with skateboards and unicycles and bicycles, but not your new fangled horse carriages.

        Actually, in San Francisco our roads are made for cars, trucks, and buses ... AND bicycles, skateboards, unicycles, etc, none of which are allowed on sidewalks where the people are.

    • We must stop the impending automobile revolution. It worry that many buggy whip manufacturing jobs may disappear. In addition, they startle the horses.

      It's like that, but will be bigger than that. This is the beginning of the long anti-robot prejudice and protectionism that will be a standard political talking point of the next two centuries.

  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:15PM (#54540159) Journal
    I would have never picked San Francisco as one of the starting points for laws specifically discriminating against robots. I'd have expected something like their being the leaders in placing the "R" on LGBTQ.
    • If you want to perform unnatural acts with a robot, I am sure SF will be at the vanguard. Using them for a productive purpose, on the other hand, really doesn't fit their model.

  • by fibonacci8 ( 260615 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:18PM (#54540169)
    If they're as hazardous as pets, give them the same requirements. For example a leash, a license, and being accompanied by a human all have precedent. Put it to a vote and solve the issue rather than lamenting potential lost jobs.
    • If they're as hazardous as pets, give them the same requirements.

      That's probably difficult to measure. On one hand, they won't bite anyone. On the other hand, pets don't burst into flame when run over by a truck.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:22PM (#54540185) Journal
    I don't know who San Francisco streets are designed for, but it's certainly not people. For one thing, street signs are often hidden or non-existent. For another thing, in places where a "walk/don't walk" sign would make perfect sense, they are often absent.....even in areas with high pedestrian accidents. The street is partly optimized for driving, partly optimized for walking, partly optimized for biking, and partly optimized to being as annoying as possible to outsiders.

    The streets of San Francisco are not well designed by any perspective.
    • Correct (Score:5, Funny)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:37PM (#54540237)

      After many, many visits to SF, both walking and biking scores of miles all around the city - I would say the city was actually designed as a kind of massive DARPA challenge to see if someone can design a warbot robust enough to survive the most extreme conditions.

      I would say if a robot could last a week wandering around various parts of SF, I would have no problem sending it into Syria or Afghanistan.

      P.S. - Robot makers, if you value your product at all please for the love of God make it poop proof. You'll see.

      • The poop thing is no joke, I only occasionally go to SF, intentionally avoiding it for all the obvious reasons, but people (bums) crapping on the street is no small problem. That's what happens when you welcome bums and claim that being out of work and homeless makes you some sort of SJW hero.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @09:40PM (#54540251) Journal

      I don't know who San Francisco streets are designed for, but it's certainly not people. For one thing, street signs are often hidden or non-existent. For another thing, in places where a "walk/don't walk" sign would make perfect sense, they are often absent.....even in areas with high pedestrian accidents. The street is partly optimized for driving, partly optimized for walking, partly optimized for biking, and partly optimized to being as annoying as possible to outsiders.

      Man, if you think San Francisco is bad for pedestrians, you don't ever want to visit Houston. Gigantic city, and it's like they exist in a time after the emergence of giant office towers and highrises, but before the invention of sidewalks. Twelve lane superhighways all over the city, with insufficient signage, so drivers always have to cut across five lanes of traffic to make their turn-off. Lines on the highway that you can't see during the day or if it rains. Few trees, so a brutal sun, glaring like an angry god, cooks flora and fauna except for three months out of the year. No state income tax, so the infrastructure is either brand new or falling to pieces. No in-between. Everything made on the cheap, because people just come here to make some money (or used to, before oil went to $50/barrel) and nobody puts roots down here willingly.

      And the best part? Absolutely no zoning laws, so you'll have a lovely quiet little residential neighborhood with ugly faux-brutalist high-rises on the corner and a strip mall smack in the middle of the block.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        You forgot the never-ending Houston smog that makes the SoCal atmosphere look pristine.

        • You forgot the never-ending Houston smog that makes the SoCal atmosphere look pristine.

          Honestly, I tried very hard to love Houston when we moved here (my wife got an appointment to Rice University, and I was contractually obligated to come along). The food is great and cheap. There's no snow. I live walking distance from Miiller Outdoor Theater so I can see everything from opera to zydeco for free. Top medical center. No state taxes (but they make up for it with high fees for everything) and we never h

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        I've been told that if you try to ride a bicycle on the streets of Houston, passing drivers will throw things at you.

      • Twelve lane superhighways all over the city, with insufficient signage, so drivers always have to cut across five lanes of traffic to make their turn-off.

        My phone came with an app that will tell me which lane I want to be in. All I have to do is tell it where I'm going. And it's free!

        Anyway, Texas is not really suitable for human residence. You should know this by now. It is actually meant to be peopled exclusively by four-door, long-bed, diesel, dually pickups, but they still need humans to move them around.

        • My phone came with an app that will tell me which lane I want to be in. All I have to do is tell it where I'm going. And it's free!

          Those apps are near useless in Houston. Trust me, I use them all the time and except for the broad strokes, they will not help you navigate the in-city highways and tollways in Houston.

          • Trust me, I use them all the time and except for the broad strokes, they will not help you navigate the in-city highways and tollways in Houston.

            To me, Houston is just a ring-shaped freeway. I'm dimly aware that there's some kind of chaos in the center, but I don't go in there. Not that I've been in Texas in twenty years, but I don't see any reason to change my policy now.

            • To me, Houston is just a ring-shaped freeway. I'm dimly aware that there's some kind of chaos in the center,

              Unfortunately, I live approximately in the middle of that chaos.

      • This was the best advertising for moving to Houston that I have ever read. No zoning by laws so everything is more convenient, no state income tax. Thank you, I will go to visit this August.

        • Thank you, I will go to visit this August.

          Yes, by all means visit Houston in August. Everyone in Houston is laughing at the thought of you visiting in August. Bring a sweater.

    • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @10:20PM (#54540409)

      I don't know who San Francisco streets are designed for, but it's certainly not people.

      They were clearly designed for one thing only: Enabling Steve McQueen to take his Mustang GT airborne at each and every intersection.

      • Relevant [youtu.be]
      • SF is certainly made for movies. And tourists.

        If you think about it, tourism is the major obstacle in many large old cities around the world to creating better urban communities.

        All these futuristic city projects you see, they won't happen until we learn to deal with tourists.

        All these picturesque slums from the past that we call tourist attractions must give space to cities of the future.

        • SF is certainly made for movies. And tourists.

          That's the thing, though. It isn't made for tourists. Sidewalks are broken and heaved, the public transportation system smells like urine, there's no fucking place to park whatsoever... It has tourists in spite of itself, not because of how it was made.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      I don't know who San Francisco streets are designed for,

      That's easy: they were designed for a mix of pedestrian traffic and horse-drawn wagons. That's why cities like Boston or San Francisco are laid out differently than, say, Las Vegas, which pretty much came into being after the advent of cars. If you look at Las Vegas its street grid has a superficial resemblance to San Francisco's but there's a subtle but important difference: at any random point in that network you're closer on average to a major traffic artery with capacity to handle high speed, high vol

      • That's easy: they were designed for a mix of pedestrian traffic and horse-drawn wagons. That's why cities like Boston or San Francisco are laid out differently than, say, Las Vegas, which pretty much came into being after the advent of cars. If you look at Las Vegas its street grid has a superficial resemblance to San Francisco's but there's a subtle but important difference: at any random point in that network you're closer on average to a major traffic artery with capacity to handle high speed, high volume traffic than you would be in San Francisco. You can't expect a street network optimized for traffic moving at 10 mph

        No, you didn't read my post. That explains some of the layout, but it sure doesn't explain the lousy street signage. Seriously, even Modesto does a much better job posting street signs that are easily visible, and crosswalk signs that are non-existent.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          I did read your post. But street signage won't fix the fundamental problem that pedestrians and cars don't mix. Yes, you can make it worse with bad signage, but that won't fix the fundamental problem of an old city trying to mix heavy auto and pedestrian traffic, which is only going to get worse. You can make things better for cars, or better for pedestrians, but not both.

          The only city I've ever been where it comes close to working is Manhattan, but that's because, purely for aesthetic reasons, they laid

          • You can make things better for cars, or better for pedestrians, but not both.

            No, making better signs would be better for everyone.

  • We can Make America Great Again by restoring all the labor-intensive, low-productivity, non-thinking jobs.
  • I hate to say it -- because I'm against the idea of robots barreling around our sidewalks -- but has the city government stopped to ask itself just what problem this startup is trying to solve?

    It seems like food delivery is already a well-solved problem ... unless, that is, your city becomes so expensive that no one can afford to live there on the kind of pay you get from a delivery job. Then maybe the robots become necessary.

    If you think about it, nobody is going to commute two hours into San Francisco jus

    • by jaa101 ( 627731 )

      I hate to say it -- because I'm against the idea of robots barreling around our sidewalks -- but has the city government stopped to ask itself just what problem this startup is trying to solve?

      Do you want a world where every business idea has to be approved by the government? If the robots present some kind of danger or hazard to people then, sure, regulate to ensure safety. If the startup can make a profit in a safe way then the government should get out of the way. Banning new technology to protect jobs is the way of the Luddite.

      It seems like food delivery is already a well-solved problem

      And in the old days weaving to make fabric for clothes was well solved too. I'm not sure being a food delivery person is much more challenging or fun than operating

      • If the startup can make a profit in a safe way then the government should get out of the way.

        True. Now, who defines the criteria for "safe"?

    • If you think about it, nobody is going to commute two hours into San Francisco just to drive around delivering food.

      Of course they will. Heck, I would move two hours away, drive in and deliver food if it paid $50,000 an hour. It's just that some people in SF want to avoid paying that kind of money (the others would be on the receiving end of it, and therefore don't want robots).

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday June 02, 2017 @10:36PM (#54540461)

    San Francisco police commander Robert O'Sullivan is in favor of the legislation, fearing the robots could harm children, the elderly, and those with limited mobility.

    That's obvious. Robots, being machines, have no empathy. Like any successful predator, they are going to first target those vulnerable individuals who get separated from the main herd, regardless of the reason.

  • Delivery robots would help the elderly and handicapped far more than they would hurt. Delivery services make life much easier when you have trouble leaving your home. I'm sure you can imagine how much easier using Amazon is than trying to travel to a couple of different stores when moving is tough. The same is true for food delivery and restaurants, pharmacies and medicines.

    This reasoning seems to be simply a justification, not a well thought out and realistic concern.

    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      Delivery services make life much easier when you have trouble leaving your home.

      The thing is, it's not like anybody had any trouble getting food delivered before they invented robots. San Francisco is filled with delivery services ... for prepared meals, for groceries, for whatever you want. And when you add the fact that these robots each have a human to guide them around, it's hard to see what value they add.

      • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )

        The thing is, it's not like anybody had any trouble getting food delivered before they invented robots.

        That argument applies to cars just as easily: Nobody had trouble getting from place to place before automobiles were invented. They walked, biked, rode in horse carriages or trains. People got to where they needed to be.

        Cars also don't add value and should've been banned from the beginning. I mean, they're way more dangerous than these robots!

        The reality is, until something has been tried, you don't really know its value. Most new things flop, but a few takes off. If you proactively ban all new things

        • Cars also don't add value and should've been banned from the beginning. I mean, they're way more dangerous than these robots!

          Here's the thing, SF is the fucking poster child for PRT, but we can't have it because the automobile companies spent so much money promoting the car life.

      • by jaa101 ( 627731 )

        San Francisco is filled with delivery services ... for prepared meals, for groceries, for whatever you want.

        And what does the safety record look life for those services? If they're using motor vehicles they're going to be killing and injuring people at some rate. What's the safety record for the new robots look like in comparison?

        And when you add the fact that these robots each have a human to guide them around, it's hard to see what value they add.

        Whether they add value is not for government to worry about. Some business is apparently betting they can make money this way: if they can, there's value in it; if they can't, they'll make a loss and the robots will go away.

  • Not in our backyard, not in our oh-so-precious City. But the designing, coding for the robot AI is being done by companies around the Bay and Silicon Valley.
    Yes to the profits, but let the plebs elsewhere in the country take all the risks during the alpha stage.
  • If one wants to lose then simply fight progress. Just why would one want to protect the jobs of delivery drivers? How about all those jobs that we lost making buggy whips?
  • How about paraplegics with a cargo-wheelchair?

    But besides joking, the streets were actually built for horses and buggys, not cars, so ban those.

    • But besides joking, the streets were actually built for horses and buggys, not cars, so ban those.

      You would need a fucking winch to get a horse and buggy up many of the streets in San Francisco. This is not hyperbole; winching was a regular part of some stagecoach trails, including the one into Lake County where I currently live. Indeed, I live a stone's throw from the original stagecoach trail that brought people into Kelseyville from Hopland, and it definitely included some steep sections where at least in the rain, you'd have to break out the block and tackle.

  • It is estimated that traffic collisions caused the death of around 60 million people during the 20th century. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    About million and a half is being killed in traffic accidents each year. Times more are badly wounded. These are the figures of the WW3. This is what going on on our streets.

    At the same time the US bureaucracy, which is under influence of an automobile lobby, de-facto sabotages delivery by airborne drones or by robotized vehicles. And these are the solutions wh
  • I like the way that The Guardian reminds people that San Francisco is in America. More Slashdot submitters should take a clue from them, and remind people what obscure things are, or where they are, right in the summary.
    • I like the way that The Guardian reminds people that San Francisco is in America. More Slashdot submitters should take a clue from them, and remind people what obscure things are, or where they are, right in the summary.

      The only problem with that is that San Francisco is one of the best-known cities on the planet. It's right up there with Tokyo or New York or London. By all means, remind people what obscure things are, but reminding people of where San Francisco is goes a bit beyond the call.

    • There are other San Franciscos in Guatemala, Honduras, etc.

  • ... is that it is illegal to drive a plain old RC car on the street.... even if there is no traffic at the time, such as what you may often find in some streets of a quiet suburban neighborhood.
  • "Out of my way, canner!"

  • > San Francisco police commander Robert O'Sullivan is in favor of the legislation, fearing the robots could harm children, the elderly, and those with limited mobility.

    What twisted logic. Children, the elderly and those with limited mobility would use robots to make them mobile.

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