Senate Bill 176 didn’t gain a lot of attention when it passed in the Missouri General Assembly and was signed into law this summer.
The legislation deals with dull-but-important matters that elected officials handle with little fanfare, like the regulation of food delivery platforms and administrative fees that vehicle dealers can charge.
One item buried in this bill might raise a few eyebrows because it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. This legislation legalizes robotic delivery vehicles called Personal Delivery Devices, known as PDDs.
These are small, unmanned vehicles that could deliver anything from pizza to packages to your front door. Maybe it sounds crazy, but ask your parents if they ever thought they’d be carrying a powerful computer inside their pockets.
Three things have to happen for robotic deliveries to become reality. One is for the technology to work, but another necessity is for lawmakers to create a basic regulatory framework. This is achieved with SB 176, legislation that covers how fast PDDs can go, whether they can operate on sidewalks or streets and how much liability insurance operators need to carry.
The third requirement is for the market to be ready to embrace increased automation. With employers facing a tight labor market and record numbers of Americans quitting their jobs, it seems we’re already there and are just waiting for the technology to catch up.
Bloomberg News reports that the number of robots installed in the world’s factories has more than doubled in the last 10 years. It would stand to reason that the trend will only accelerate following the pandemic’s impact on labor availability.
At the retail level, it was assumed that increases in the minimum wage would drive up the cost of hamburgers and retail goods, but business owners would be interested in maintaining profitability without turning off customers with higher prices. One solution is to deploy self-checkout stations in grocery stores and self-ordering kiosks at burger stands.
This has been tried and will become a more common feature as labor becomes harder to find. We’ve all seen the automated floor-cleaning machines at big-box stores.
Rather than resist, it’s best to create rules for the new technology — something that lawmakers addressed in a small way with the PDD legislation — and to put a focus on developing an educated workforce because it’s the low-skill worker who will be left in the cold with automation.
The future will look different, maybe not with flying cars but possibly with the last mile of delivery coming from a robot instead of a person.
Who knows, maybe the day will come when Karen demands to talk to the robot in charge?