Updated: Toronto City Council Could Ban Sidewalk Robots
Robot delivery service Tiny Mile had formerly praised local regulators there.
Up in Toronto, Canada, Tiny Mile’s pink robots could soon be blue. According to a story over the weekend on BlogTO, the Toronto city council is poised to passed a rule that would ban autonomous and teleoperated delivery robots and other micro-mobility devices Toronto’s streets and sidewalks.
The anti-robot measure has come from groups concerned about how the robots impact the safety of people with movement and vision disabilities on public sidewalks. From BlogTO’s report:
The Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee met last month to discuss the issue, and formally advised council to prohibit all "micro utility devices" including deliverbots, self-driving or remotely-driven snow removal machines and other robotic service devices, scanning devices and personal robots from such public spaces.
It seems like such a ruling would be pretty devastating to Tiny Mile, a restaurant delivery service that operates little pink robots in Toronto. We reached out to the company to find out more.
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What’s curious about the whole situation is that when OttOmate spoke with Tiny Mile just a few months ago in September, company CEO Ignacio Tartavull said relations with officials in Toronto have been good over the past year. As we wrote at the time:
In addition to running smoothly in bad weather, Tartavull said that it’s been smooth operating with the City of Toronto. Local officials there have encouraged Tiny Mile in part, according to Tartavull, because the company’s delivery robots could help save restaurants money which in turn keeps restaurants afloat and saves restaurant jobs.
This is not the first time that public safety and interactions with the disabled community have come up for delivery robots. Back in October of 2019, Starship had to suspend its operations for a bit at the University of Pittsburgh after an incident involving a robot and person in a wheelchair gaining access to a sidewalk.
Making sure that robot deployments are equitable includes ensuring that those with movement or other disablities are not put at higher risk. Robot delivery companies should definitely be working with disability advocate groups to ensure sidewalk and street robots don’t inhibit movement, and are also more easily used (being the right height, unlockable without needing to see a keypad, etc.) by everyone.
Complicating this issue even further are the continued waves of COVID, and the sustained need for contactless delivery. As Omicron proves easily spreadable, having robots instead of humans dropping off food could help mitigate spread of the virus. Local regulators around the world will have to weigh a variety of societal and economic factors as they debate delivery robot adoption in the coming years.
The Toronto city council will vote on the issue on December 15.
UPDATE: Tiny Mile CEO Ignacio Tartavull posted the following comment over on Linkedin:
This is shortsighted, since many of the people we are benefiting are the elder and people with disabilities.
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