Arizona could open sidewalks to personal delivery robots

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Move over self-driving cars. A new kind of autonomous robot could soon hit Arizona streets and sidewalks.

A bill to authorize “personal delivery devices” in Arizona advanced through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday on an 8-0 vote. The bill will head to the full House floor.

Six-wheel, 50-pound robots are already cruising down sidewalks and crosswalks in several California cities and Washington, D.C. Max speed: 4 miles per hour.

“We deliver packages, food, groceries. Anything that will fit in the device, we'll deliver it. It's essentially an ‘Uber for Things,’” said David Catania of Starship Technologies.

If the legislation passes, Arizona would become the sixth state to adopt a statute for delivery robots, following Virginia, Idaho, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Catania says the devices are designed for short deliveries of 2 miles of less. It sounds simple, but in the world of transportation those “last-mile deliveries” are the most expensive, energy-intensive and inefficient, he said.

“It's all electric, so no CO2 emissions,” he said. “We can get it to $1 per delivery and obviously the energy usage -- it's like running a 60-watt bulb instead of an engine to run a 2,000-pound car.”

State Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she decided to sponsor the legislation after encountering a personal delivery robot in Washington, D.C.

“What it is doing is creating high-tech jobs, and quite a few actually,” she said. “You need to have somebody build them. You need to have them maintaining the machine. The operation of the machine, the guy that monitors it from the computer screen.”

Although the robots largely operate autonomously, Catania said the machines send alerts to a remote human operator when they encounter something unusual.

Starship brought one of its robots to the House committee hearing. So how does the “Uber of Things” leave the Capitol?

In an Uber, of course.

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This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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