A six-wheeled ground delivery robot, from Estonia-based Starship Technologies, shares the sidewalk with pedestrians at DuPont Circle, Feb. 20, 2017, in Washington.

Robots delivering food and other consumer items could soon be coming to St. Louis sidewalks.

Following the lead of a handful of other states, Missouri lawmakers are considering new guidelines that would regulate autonomous delivery devices.

The proposed law could help companies begin rolling out the small, cooler-sized delivery units to drop off late-night snacks, packages or other sundry items in St. Louis and other Missouri municipalities. And, the rules could help pedestrians and motorists who will be sharing city streets and sidewalks with the robots.

“The marketplace is changing very swiftly and we just want to make sure our policies are up to date,” said Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, who is sponsoring the legislation.

Others states, including Washington, Idaho and Wisconsin, already have put similar laws on their books as robots perform more and more jobs once done by humans .

Fitzwater’s plan would limit the robots’ weight to 200 pounds, excluding the cargo.

The machine also must be capable of navigating a sidewalk without the intervention of a person.

The measure would allow a device to operate on sidewalks, but also on roads as long as it does not interfere with a motor vehicle. The maximum speed would be 10 mph.

The proposal also requires operators to maintain insurance policies of at least $100,000 for damages.

The proposed rules in Missouri are less stringent than those in some other states. In Washington, for example, the top speed is 6 mph and the top weight is 120 pounds.

Fitzwater said he expects his proposal to be altered as it moves through the legislative process.

“It’s just a first step,” he said.

Amazon, which already employs robots in its warehouses, has tested a device called “Scout” that has been compared to a cooler with wheels.

Other companies, such as Starship Technologies, have operated pilot projects, primarily on university campuses.

In 2019, the company deployed two dozen robots on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia to cart food to hungry students at a cost of $1.99 per delivery.

Supporters say robots will reduce congestion and pollution by removing cars, trucks and vans from the delivery process.

The legislation marks the second futuristic bill sponsored by Fitzwater this year.

Earlier this month, he successfully shepherded a plan through the House aimed at convincing developers to build a high-speed transportation system test track in Missouri.

“This is an opportunity for our state to be innovative and forward-thinking on transportation,” Fitzwater said at the time.

The measure adds tube transport systems, a concept developed by the company Virgin Hyperloop One, to the list of projects that could be financed through public-private partnerships.

Although the long-term goal is to connect St. Louis and Kansas City with a pneumatic tube that could transport passengers across the state in 30 minutes, a recent study recommends the state first should build a 15-mile track to test the feasibility of the concept.

The delivery device legislation is House Bill 2290.


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