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Forget delivery drivers, there’s a robot for that

Friday, August 11, 2017 by Lisa Dreher

With talks of autonomous cars and becoming a “smart city,” it is not too shocking that City Council on Thursday approved kickstarting a pilot program for delivery robots that will soon roam Austin’s sidewalks. Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar said a pilot program will encourage competition among tech companies to create robots to deliver items from food to possibly medicine in order to reduce traffic congestion. Council Member Ora Houston said her district’s residents are often in need of access to medicine and asked for an inclusive program. According to the recently approved resolution, the city’s traffic manager is responsible for giving the go-ahead for a pilot program but must consult the Urban Transportation Commission beforehand. Council Member Ellen Troxclair commended the pursuit of this new technology but said her main concern is setting too many parameters beforehand may drive companies away. “I just want to make sure that by kind of preemptively coming in and setting regulations, that we don’t stifle anything, that we don’t stifle any kind of potential before we understand what the possibilities are,” Troxclair said. “I know that that’s certainly not your intention, I just wanted to put it out there that I’m going to be really cautious that we don’t unintentionally overregulate.” Spillar said a technology leader in Austin requested legislation preventing local overregulation, because the devices are not typically regulated under state or federal law and they argued it should be the same on the local level. Council unanimously approved the resolution, with Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Pio Renteria and Greg Casar absent. Adler and Renteria were absent the entire meeting, and Casar had just stepped away from the dais but expressed a favorable opinion of the program, though he cautioned that the city should keep an eye on whether the robots were impacting existing delivery jobs staffed by local humans.

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