Robots could be delivering in your neighborhood after bill passed Va. Senate

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RICHMOND, Va. – Robots soon may be among us on the streets. Those who are homebound, busy or just don’t feel like going to the store gained a victory when SB 1207 passed unanimously through the Virginia Senate this week.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, would allow the use of Electronic Personal Delivery Devices, or EPDDs, on sidewalks, crosswalks and shared-use paths throughout Virginia.

A similar bill in the House of Delegates, sponsored by Del. Ron Villaneuva, R-Chesapeake, is awaiting a floor vote. Villaneuva’s HB 2016 received a 21-0 approval in the House Transportation Committee.

Statewide approval of the devices would be the first of its kind in the United States, legislators and company officials say.

“Passage of the bill in the Senate demonstrates Virginia’s commitment to innovation and the Commonwealth’s willingness to encourage the use of unmanned systems,” DeSteph said.

A London-based robotics company, Starship Technologies, which backed the legislation, already is building a fleet of delivery robots designed to maneuver high-density urban areas in 15-30 minutes.

The devices would use sidewalks to deliver groceries, parcels and food. They come equipped with a sophisticated obstacle detection system and can travel up to 3 miles from a base location while carrying loads up to 40 pounds and traveling at a pedestrian speed, according to Starship Technologies’ website.

The primary aim of the robots is to reduce congestion and pollution in cities and neighborhoods, while providing convenience and reduced costs for customers and businesses.

To date, the robots have traveled tens of thousands of miles, met millions of people and have been tested in over 50 cities around the world, DeSteph said after his bill passed Wednesday.

“Starship Technologies is delighted with the passage of Sen. DeSteph’s legislation from the Senate, and the team are excited about the opportunity to bring this technology to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Allan Martinson, chief operating officer of Starship Technologies.