Sidewalk delivery robots, once only a sci-fi reality, are getting more attention these days because of their potential to revolutionize ground-based delivery and serve as a “last-mile” solution that takes the human out of the loop. The robots simply navigate to your address while using cameras to avoid accidents and locking features to prevent theft. These robots claim that they can make it easier to do contact-free deliveries, empowering restaurants and consumers to save money, and even reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, traffic congestion, and parking problem on the streets. Could these robots even improve quality of life by safe and cost-effective delivery of food, medicine, and other small packages to individuals with no access to cars? The revolutionary promise of sidewalk delivery robots comes with several loose ends. Most importantly, these robots will only achieve significant economic, environmental, and social benefits through scale. This means many robots rolling over the sidewalks of our cities. Even if the robots move smoothly across the sidewalks without bumping into people, the question is: are we ready to share the sidewalk with these delivery robots? Through observations, intercept surveys and interviews with community members and stakeholders, this perspective offers an insight into how the community feels about this technology, as well as how the delivery robots interact with pedestrians on our sidewalks.
SERENA ALEXANDER, PhD
Dr. Serena Alexander is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Director of Urban Online at San José State University. Her research focuses on developing cutting-edge strategies to address climate change and climate justice.