A bill authorizing delivery robots in Indiana is on its way to Governor Holcomb.
Purdue has used robots for campus food deliveries for a couple of years, and FedEx and Amazon use them in a handful of cities for short-haul deliveries of items like auto parts and medication. The Senate has given final approval to a bill making clear those robots are allowed on sidewalks and crosswalks.
After passing the House unanimously, the bill attracted a dozen no votes in the Senate. Some senators from both parties want more clarity about cities and towns’ ability to regulate the robots. The bill bans any local ordinances on how the robots are manufactured or what the can carry, but Anderson Senator Tim Lanane (D) says the bill should make clear cities can limit where the robots operate — for instance, keeping them out of historic neighborhoods.
Charlestown Republican Chris Garten says that’s an issue that will take care of itself. He says the companies which operate the robots have worked with communities to work out those issues before deploying them, to make sure they don’t go where they’re not wanted.
Indianapolis Senator Greg Taylor (D) says his problem with the bill isn’t that it’s ambiguous, but that it’s clear. He notes the robot vehicles weigh up to 500 pounds and go as fast as 10 miles an hour. Taylor argues that’s a safety hazard, and the bill doesn’t create enough oversight. Garten says there’s a control center where humans can intervene if necessary, but says the technology allows the robots to stop, back up or change direction to avoid obstacles.
Purdue officials testified there have been no major incidents with the robots, though some have suffered minor damage when drivers decided to test whether the robots would get out of their way, and discovered that 10 miles an hour isn’t fast enough to do that.