Washington state greenlights delivery robots on sidewalks

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A Starship robot delivers a bill regulating ‘personal delivery devices’ to Gov. Jay Inslee to sign. (Starship Photo)

Autonomous delivery robots will soon be allowed on Washington state’s sidewalks.

On Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that establishes new regulations for “personal delivery devices” like the delivery robot Amazon unveiled earlier this year.

Starship Technologies — an Estonia-based company started by Skype’s co-founders — builds delivery robots like the ones Washington just greenlit. Starship worked closely with Washington state lawmakers on the legislation so perhaps it’s fitting that one of the company’s robots delivered the bill to Inslee.

“Thank you starship … but I can assure you, their technology will never replace the Washington state legislature,” Inslee said before signing the bill.

Under the new regulations, the devices:

  • Can’t travel faster than six miles per hour
  • Can’t exceed 120 pounds before they’re loaded up with items to deliver
  • Can only cross the street at crosswalks
  • Can be tracked with a unique ID number
  • Must be monitored and controlled by an operator
  • Must belong to a business with an insurance policy that covers liability of at least $100,000
  • Must yield to pedestrians and bikes
  • Must have effective brakes and lights

In January, Amazon began testing its own delivery robot in Snohomish County, Wash., near the company’s Seattle headquarters. The so-called “Scout” device looks a bit like a cooler on wheels and travels down sidewalks at a walking pace. Amazon partnered with the county on the pilot. Today’s news allows devices like Scout to operate statewide.

Amazon did not immediately respond to GeekWire’s request to comment on the new law. Starship and Amazon representatives attended the bill signing Tuesday. Starship has been pushing for this legislation in Washington since 2016.

Washington is now the eighth state to permit personal delivery robots on sidewalks. Companies like Starship have been lobbying for this type of legislation across the country. In addition to Washington, Virginia, Idaho, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Utah, and Arizona allow the devices on sidewalks.

“In Washington, we embrace technological innovation,” Inslee said Tuesday. “As we work to become a leading innovator in the use of autonomous vehicles these robots are a welcome new addition.”

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