Missouri could allow robots to deliver goods to your home. A bill sponsored by state Senator Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, aims to let robots cruise mainly along sidewalks and crosswalks to deliver items around the state. During a state Senate Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Safety Committee hearing today, Hough says the effort is a work in progress.

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Under the bill, the robots could not block public rights of way, must obey traffic and pedestrian control signals, operate 10 miles per hour or less on a sidewalk, and must be equipped to come to a controlled stop.

Tom Dempsey, a lobbyist for Amazon and a former Missouri Senate President, says the e-commerce retailer supports the legislation. He says Amazon’s delivery gadget, called Scout, is a “last mile device”.

“Amazon launched a fully electric autonomous delivery system that operates in pedestrian areas like sidewalks and crosswalks. Our device is the size of a small cooler that you would bring to a beach and operates at about the same speed as the average person walks,” says Dempsey. “Scout is 100% electric and is helping Amazon drive towards our goal of making all Amazon shipments net zero carbon with 50% of all shipments net zero carbon by 2030.”

Dempsey provided previous written testimony from Jeff Cleland, who leads state and local transportation policy at Amazon. Scout was launched in January 2019. Cleland says Scout is readily visible to others and is able to stop, or safely navigate around pedestrians, pets, and obstacles. To date, more than 15 states and the District of Columbia have passed personal delivery device legislation.

Henrio Thelemaque, with FedEx, says the company supports the measure. It has a personal delivery device called Roxo.

“As we’ve all seen with COVID-19, if you are not participating in e-commerce, you potentially are going to struggle in the business of retail or any other business. The goal is to work with these smaller retailers and larger retailers to find ways for them to participate in the new market,” he says.

The devices would be exempt from motor vehicle registration requirements and must maintain a general liability insurance policy of at least $100,000. If they are operated at night, the robots would be required to be equipped with lighting. They cannot be used to transport hazardous materials.

Shannon Cooper, lobbying on behalf of the city of Kansas City, says the city does not oppose the bill but hopes some scenarios will be taken into consideration when crafting the bill. Cooper is a former state Representative from Clinton.

“Obviously our concern would be some unintended accidents with these machines, or batteries dying and setting around on the street corners like we see with these crazy scooters everywhere. The sponsor has indicated he’ll be happy to work with us,” says Cooper. “We just want to make sure at the end of the day, the city and our residents are protected from these machines and there’s enough liability coverage if there is a horrible accident.”

The committee has not voted yet on the plan. To view Senate Bill 176, click here.

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