Virginia has made robotics history. The commonwealth is the first state to pass legislation allowing delivery robots to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks across the state.
The new law goes into effect on July 1 and was signed into law by the governor last Friday.
The two Virginia lawmakers who sponsored the bill, Ron Villanueva and Bill DeSteph, teamed up with Starship Technologies, an Estonian-based ground delivery robotics company, to draft the legislation.
Robots operating under the new law won’t be able to exceed 10 miles per hour or weigh over 50 pounds, but they will be allowed to rove autonomously.
The law doesn’t require robots to stay within line of sight of a person in control, but a person is required to at least remotely monitor the robot and take over if it goes awry. Robots are only allowed on streets in a crosswalk.
Municipalities in the state are allowed to regulate how robots will operate locally, like if a city council wants to impose a stricter speed limit or keep them out entirely.
“There wasn’t push back [from legislators],” Rep. Villanueva said in an interview with Recode. “It was more like intrigue and curiosity about the technology, what the application would be, how it would benefit the citizens.”
Companies like Amazon and Grubhub sent Virginia lawmakers letters of support to pass the new robotic delivery law, said Rep. Villanueva.
Though Starship Technologies helped to pass the new law, it also opens the doors to other ground delivery robotics companies to operate in Virginia, too. Companies like Marble and Dispatch are also working to bring robots for autonomous delivery to city sidewalks.
Starship is already testing its robots with Postmates in Washington, D.C., and DoorDash in Redwood City, Calif.
Legislation similar to what passed in Virginia has been proposed in both Idaho and Florida.