In a nutshell: As more companies start testing autonomous delivery bots, are they going to steal human jobs and take up sidewalk space? Not in New York City, where FedEx’s SameDay Bot has been told it’s not welcome.
FedEx unveiled the delivery bot, which is designed for short-distance deliveries, back in February. It’s battery-powered, tops out at 10 mph, can climb stairs, and uses the same camera and LIDAR tech found in autonomous vehicles.
Footage of the SameDay bot was posted on Twitter last week, showing it moving along New York’s streets and into a FedEx depot. But it’s not being tested in the city; the robot was there to promote Small Business Saturday, an initiative that encourages people to shop locally, though its presence still incurred the wrath of New York officials.
CNN reports that lawyers for the New York City Department of Transportation delivered a cease-and-desist letter to FedEx on Monday, warning it that the bot was violating multiple traffic laws and that the company could face consequences if it didn’t stop operating the machine.
“You are hereby directed to immediately cease and desist operating your SameDay Bots on the streets and sidewalks in the City of New York,” lawyers wrote. “Failure to do so may result in the seizure of the property, notices of violation and/or the commencement of legal action.”
Motorized vehicles are not allowed on New York City sidewalks, and no motor vehicles may be operated without "having at least one hand" on the steering mechanism while it’s moving.
Even mayor Bill De Blasio took part in the outrage, tweeting that no robot should take a New Yorker’s job, and that he didn’t want the bots clogging up the streets.
First of all, @FedEx, never get a robot to do a New Yorker’s job. We have the finest workers in the world.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) 23 November 2019
Second of all, we didn’t grant permission for these to clog up our streets. If we see ANY of these bots we’ll send them packing. https://t.co/XxJIrIW9vr
"FedEx's robots wouldn't just undercut the jobs of hardworking New Yorkers -- they would be a danger on our crowded streets," Will Baskin-Gerwitz, De Blasio's deputy press secretary, told CNN.
"Today's letter will hopefully be the end of this experiment, but we're prepared to take further steps if FedEx isn't willing to get them off our streets."
They may not be welcome in New York, but eight states have now approved sidewalk robots, including Virginia, which was the first to do so, along with Ohio, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, and Washington.