Robots may soon deliver your food, but not in San Francisco


If you were wondering where San Francisco draws the line with their tech-loving neighbor’s shenanigans, it’s apparently at “robot food delivery.”

Back in January, Starship Technologies gifted San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and London with a pilot program for robotic food delivery. The company, founded by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis and based in Estonia, worked with DoorDash and Postmates to deliver food in 15-30 minutes within a two to three mile radius all the while keeping your meal hot or cold in its cute little carrier. Reviews were good and all seemed well with this delightful development.

This week, however, Norman Yee, a long-time San Francisco supervisor put forth legislation to rain on this parade of food-filled robots. Yee’s primary concern is that the bots are taking jobs away from citizens (fair) and that there could be safety risks for children, people with disabilities and seniors.

Basically, he feels like the robots’ speed and movement function more like skateboarders or bikers than pedestrians. San Francisco doesn’t allow bikers or skateboarders on sidewalks and hence, Yee believes, neither should the city allow robots. The bots move at a rate of about four miles an hour and are totally automated, though during this pilot period, humans still monitor their progress with the ability to assume control at any time.

While San Francisco considers banning robotic delivery, Wisconsin and Florida are considering broad legislation that allows it. Legislation that is almost identical to laws in place in Virginia and Idaho. This sweep of pro-robotic legislation is due in part to the efforts of Starship Technologies. While it’s not the only food delivery ‘bot in the game — SF-based Dispatch and Marble are also testing their products in the Bay — Starship is still the most notable player in the space.

Notably, the legislation they are pushing through is also a work of market-stunting genius. The language in the laws specifies robot sizes, shapes and weights — specifics that only Starship’s robots currently fit.