Almost as soon as technologists invented robots to deliver groceries or food outlets to people’s doorsteps, the sidewalk controversies began.
Officials in San Francisco, a laboratory testing many new technologies, are concerned that interactions with robots could hurt the elderly, children or people with disabilities. About a year ago, Pennsylvania overcame city-by-city restrictions and gave sidewalk delivery robots, which look like beer coolers on wheels, the same permissions as pedestrians. Officials in Kirkland, Wash., recently withheld licenses for Amazon’s experimental package delivery robots and are asking if the company should pay a fee to use sidewalk space.
It seems absurd to devote brain space and government attention to robotic transporters, which may never be possible outside of confined environments such as university campuses or high schools. city center. And go ahead and roll your eyes at left-leaning cities like San Francisco that seem obsessed with rules.
But these robot battles are a microcosm of the big questions of modern technology and life. How do we share public spaces like streets and sidewalks – and who is responsible for the inevitable harms caused by changes to our communities, including threats to safety , road and pavement wear, congestion and pollution?
Versions of these questions come up as e-commerce delivery explodes, and they pop up whenever localities find places for outdoor dining, biking, ride-hailing like Uber, ride-hailing. foot, bus, driverless car, electric motorbike or flying taxi. These are all flavors of the same dispute over who belongs and who doesn’t belong in our shared space and who is more or less deserving of a limited resource.
“For 100 years, we’ve had all sorts of things on the streets, streets and sidewalks that we didn’t know what to do with it,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina law school who did the research. emerging transportation. He points out that there was a time when cars were the new and controversial thing on the road.
Smith acknowledges that there are no simple answers to who and what belongs to our streets and sidewalks.
Not allowing public spaces to flourish is self-defeating. We may miss out on helpful changes to our homeland or better ways to move people and goods around. But it also has the potential to be destructive when it comes to allowing a free van, like a delivery van to navigate neighborhoods, a golf cart on a freeway, or a sea of cars and scooters clogging every road. .
Smith said it is appropriate for different communities to make their own choices about sidewalk robots, bike lanes or ride-hailing services, even without a common blueprint for how handling these things is ungrateful. He said universities, which have so far been the hub of robot delivery, have the power to set rules like speed and weight limits and keep couriers on their promises. .
Officials and all of us need to ask what we want for our communities, he said, and then envision how we want the public space to serve those goals. That means thinking holistically about the use of roads and sidewalks, not treating robot carriers, electric scooters, personal cars, or UPS trucks as discrete modes of transportation. fragmentary.
Above all, says Smith, people and policymakers should not only be thinking about what to do about new forms of transportation, but also be ready to reimagine the status quo of cars and trucks with as the dominant users of public spaces, with everything and everyone else competing for curbs and sidewalks.
Due to the high costs that transportation causes to communities, such as traffic congestion, road deaths, climate change, and the need for physical space, Smith says we may need to be wealthy. more imaginative about making room for anything other than cars. “Let’s encourage diversity and see what happens,” he said.
This is going to be messy and controversial, but as Smith said, that’s how change works.
To read more about emerging means of transport: (Registration may be required for these.)
Before we go…
Government of Israel request denied from Ukraine and Estonia in recent years to use controversial digital spying technology called Pegasus to hack Russian phones. My colleagues Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti report that Israel is worried about damaging its relationship with the Kremlin.
For more on Pegasus, read this survey from January.
He is a British teenager: Cybersecurity researchers believe they have identified a 16-year-old who they say was the spearhead of a series of computer attacks targeting tech companies including Microsoft and the computer chip company Nvidia, Bloomberg News reported. (Registration may be required.)
Moments of peace in the war for apps: Users of Spotify’s Android app will soon have parallel options to pay for music subscriptions through Google’s or Spotify’s payment systems. My colleague Dai Wakabayashi explains why this tweak is a fascinating moment in the global quest to gain control of apps from Google and Apple.
I like to read This Twitter thread of animal researchers discussing foxes, frogs, tarantulas, and other study subjects barely budging from the same spot when their movements were tracked.