WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS AND ROBOTS DELIVER: SETTING A FRAMEWORK FOR REGULATING PERSONAL DELIVERY DEVICES.

Author:Bascelli, Christopher M.
 
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  1. Introduction 94 II. Background Information on Personal Delivery Devices 97 III. History of New Technologies & the Law's Response 101 A. Transformative Technologies and the Law's Response 101 B. Difficulty in Finding the Liable Party 102 C. The Future of Personal Robots and the Law 103 IV . Merging of Regulations 103 A. Autonomous Vehicles 104 B. Drones 107 C. Sidewalk Traffic 108 V Safety Concerns 111 A. Weather 111 B. Time of Day 112 C. Speed, Weight, and Location of Personal Delivery Devices on the Sidewalk 113 D. Control 115 E. Identification 115 F. Security 116 G. Privacy 117 VI. Guidelines For A Potential Framework 117 A. Generic Rules 117 B. Dealing with Safety Concerns 118 C. Insurance 121 D. Dealing with Privacy Concerns 122 VII. Conclusion 123 I. INTRODUCTION

    Regulation can stifle innovation. (1) "[R]egulation places a compliance burden on firms, which can cause them to divert time and money from innovative activities to compliance efforts." (2) Although this may be the case, regulation is necessary to protect the general public from injury. Unfettered use and application of technology can provide great utility to society, but can also cause great social harm. Therefore, a balance needs to be struck that does not impede innovation, but rather facilitates progress in a safe and efficient manner. (3)

    The acceleration of technological advances has provided great value to society. Many inventions and innovations provide cost effective solutions to everyday problems. Many advances also aim to limit the carbon footprint caused by human counterparts. One such example is personal delivery devices that effectuate the last mile of delivery. For example, Amazon is in the process of developing drones that may be used to deliver packages. (4) Other examples, which is the subject of this Note, are personal delivery devices that travel on the ground, rather than in the air. (5) This Note will argue that a national regulatory framework, combined with governance at the local level, is necessary to allow for producers of personal delivery devices to yield consistent and uniform production and operation. This Note will also provide a background, considering the safety and privacy concerns, for a future regulatory framework for personal delivery devices.

    In March of 2016, the District of Columbia passed the Personal Delivery Device Act of 2016 ("the Act") which "implement[ed] a pilot program... for the registration and operation of [Personal Delivery Devices] in the District." The legislation closely followed the bike laws of Washington D.C. For example, personal delivery devices are allowed to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks, except in the central business district. (7) The Act also set forth weight and speed limitations, as well as system requirements in case the devices failed and needed to be controlled. (8)

    The Personal Delivery Device Act also requires operators to register their personal delivery devices. (9) To register, the applying operator is required to certify that the personal delivery device is safe to operate on sidewalks and provide "[t]he proposed geographic locations within the District where the applicant intends to operate the" personal delivery devices. (10) Since the District of Columbia passed the Personal Delivery Device Act, several states have followed suit, passing similar statutes allowing for the operation of personal delivery devices. (11)

    While delivery drones face an uphill battle to entering the marketplace, the potential regulatory framework proposed for their use carries usefulness for the study here. Like Amazon's drones, personal delivery devices will be effectuating the last mile of delivery, causing the device to interact with people. (12) Therefore, many principles being offered to regulate drones can be applied to personal delivery devices.

    Similarly, self-driving cars and the regulations set forth relating to their use are relevant and may aid in setting out a framework. Like self-driving cars, personal delivery devices may be classified as autonomous vehicles. (13) Therefore, extracting principles being used to regulate self-driving cars will be useful in setting out a workable framework. Because personal delivery devices do not fit in any neat category, as most technologies do, it is necessary to blend concepts from other devices to create a viable framework.

    This Note will set out to provide a possible framework for regulating personal delivery devices. Although regulations can stifle innovation, it is imperative that public safety and convenience are preserved. One potential hurdle for these personal delivery devices is that they will ultimately be governed at the local level. As mentioned above, the personal delivery devices will travel along sidewalks and crosswalks, which are controlled by local municipalities. However, creating a national framework would be beneficial to producers of the personal delivery devices, like Starship, Dispatch, and Marble so that they can make uniform devices to be deployed in cities across the United States. Personal delivery devices also do not face the uphill battle that delivery drones face, which make their introduction and application in real life more likely.

    Part I of this Note provides background information for the personal delivery devices. Part II discusses legal scholarship pertaining to the rise of robots and other technologies, and how the law has tried to adapt. I conclude in this section that legal principles from other burgeoning technologies provide a starting point for regulating personal delivery devices. Part III canvasses the current and pending legislation and regulation for autonomous vehicles, drones, and sidewalk traffic. Because no framework exists for personal delivery devices, and because these new devices do not fit neatly into any existing regulatory framework, it is my belief that principles and concepts from legislation regulating similar technologies, as well the areas they will operate, will provide important guidelines for creating a framework for personal delivery devices. I also conclude in this section that, like producers of autonomous vehicles, producers of personal delivery devices would benefit from a national framework to provide consistency in operation, even though these devices will ultimately be governed at the local level. Part IV will discuss the various safety and privacy concerns raised by personal delivery device operation. Finally, Part V merges the regulations and legislation set out in Part III to combat the safety and privacy concerns set out in Part IV to provide a backdrop for a future national regulatory framework for delivery devices.

  2. BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON PERSONAL DELIVERY DEVICES

    "On-demand delivery is something consumers have come to expect." (14) Innovators have begun to roll out personal delivery devices that roam sidewalks and crosswalks to compete with Amazon's drone program. Some of the companies that are developing this technology include Starship Industries, (15) Dispatch, (16) and Marble. (17) Starship is beginning to test these personal delivery devices in cities in the United States and abroad. (18)

    Starship's personal delivery device weighs forty pounds and can travel up to four miles per hour. (19) The personal delivery device is designed to "carry[] up to [twenty] pounds of cargo." (20) The personal delivery device utilizes nine sensors to avoid collisions and uses GPS to maneuver sidewalks and crosswalks on its way to the delivery destination. (21) The personal delivery devices are able to scale curbs and small steps.

    Starship has also partnered with Mercedes-Benz to create a "mothership." (22) With this, an autonomous Mercedes-Benz van will be able to carry multiple personal delivery devices at once and deploy them near their delivery destination. (23) Once delivery is complete, the personal delivery devices will return to the mothership and go back to a hub to collect the contents of their next delivery. (24) With the increasing viability of autonomous vehicles, it is possible that Starship's entire delivery operation will be autonomous in the future.

    The personal delivery devices possess several security features. If a pedestrian attempts to pick up the personal delivery device, the device has an alarm and speaker system, allowing an operator to communicate with the pedestrian to inform them that the personal delivery device has GPS and that the authorities have been contacted. (25) The personal delivery device's compartment is also locked. (26) Recipients of the delivery receive a code beforehand, which they can use to unlock the compartment and retrieve the contents. (27)

    In the initial phase of testing, operators will control the personal delivery device. (28) Additionally, operators will walk with the device to ensure it is functioning properly. (29) Over time, however, the personal delivery device will learn the environment which it is operating in and eventually will run autonomously. (30) Starship plans to have one operator oversee one-hundred personal delivery devices at a given time. The operators have the capability of taking control of the personal delivery device at any time, in case it glitches. (32)

    Starship's goal for the personal delivery device is to effectuate the last mile of delivery in an efficient and cost-effective manner. (33) These devices, also, have the capability of delivering groceries and other small shipments. (34) The future possibilities are endless. Self-driving cars are being tested and could be feasible in the next decade. (35) As Allen Martinson, the Chief Operating Officer of Starship points out, it would not make sense for an owner of a self-driving car to have the car drive them to the store to merely load groceries. (36) Personal delivery devices would cut out this mundane task. Switzerland is also currently testing the feasibility of using the personal delivery devices to deliver mail, (37)...

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