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Social Acceptance of PMRs

Lessons in Leadership (Webinar)

On February 27th, 2024, we were delighted to host a virtual panel discussion with two experts in the deployment of public-area mobile robots: Councillor Helen Hayden from Leeds City Council (UK) and Lisa Johnson, Vice-President of Global Public Affairs for Starship Technologies. In this blog post, we provide some highlights and some of the Q&A to help you get an overview of the session.

If you prefer, we also provide a link to view the webinar (56 minutes, available now on our YouTube channel):


Time Stamp to topics/questions

1:20 - URF's focus is on Social Acceptance and Deployment Readiness

3:10 - Introducing our guest speakers

4:05 - Bern Grush, URF Executive Director - poses first question to Helen: "...from your perspective of sustainable development and infrastructure, what were your initial thoughts when it became apparent that delivery robots would be a possibility in Leeds? What were you expecting or hoping for?"

7:10 - Berns asks Lisa: "I know you have been involved in a large number of delivery robot deployments ranging from college campuses to cities like Leeds and Milton Keynes in the UK and now in Finland and Germany Please tell us a bit about where you start so our audience can better understand the role of public affairs and government relations."

11:00 - "When Leeds was deciding to deploy delivery robots, was this a multi-department consultation or a single-focus decision?  How was that coordinated among all the involved parties?

13:30 - "What was your criteria for deciding where to deploy these devices? and what were your criteria?"

19:00 - "Can you talk about the nature and value of robot delivery to customers with a disability? And I understand that Starship has done some research with having their robots recognize white canes for the visually impaired. Can you tell us more?

22:30 - "There is a regulatory framework your opinion, how much of the regulatory framework for these public area mobile robots should come from a higher level of government and how much should be left to the municipality to make local decisions? I know this differs a bit from one country to another, but what is your focus from a UK perspective and how do you think that worked for what you needed to accomplish?

Audience Q&A session begins at 28:00

Where are jobs created for the manufacturing or repair of the robots?

You were saying that robots help reducing amount of car rides. But as robots mostly work on pavements and mostly deliver in the last-mile zone, don’t they compete more with bikes rather than cars?

What is the relationship between sidewalk delivery robots and the myriad semi-intelligent micromobility variants such as e-scooters that have appeared on many city streets in recent years. Should there be one roadway design standard for all? One legal liability regime? * Download our URF's Executive Guide (pages 8-9) for more information on "Does our history with e-scooters portend a direction for PMRs?"

Are there any standardized tests operated in the municipalities - what are the required certifications, if any?

Question regarding community perception and acceptance…Lisa mentioned the need for timely delivery for prepared food, which involves speed and pathways. How do you manage the community perception of a safe speed for a pavement/sidewalk traversing robot vs. the capabilities of the technology to travel safely (i.e. the technology could go faster and remain safe, but there are socially accepted speed limits on pavement/sidewalk)?

Given the focus on secure and convenient delivery, how do you see solutions like smart mailboxes and parcel lockers complementing autonomous delivery vehicles such as Starship robots for high-value goods or other deliveries requiring specific customer interaction or if the customer is not there at the time their delivery is set to arrive?

I think it is essential to facilitate seamless movement on sidewalks and within buildings for the robots. Are there any precedents for aligning the Building Act with the Road Traffic Act? (according to traditional classifications, AMRs are subject to the Building Act, whereas delivery robots are subject to the Road Traffic Act. But now, public robots needs adopt both Act.)

At what furthest point should a delivery robot be able to successfully determine the speed and trajectory of nearby people, other robots, bikes, etc.

Can we discuss for a moment mass adoption of robotics and the safety concerns this brings. Not all emergent companies may be as well equipped as Starship. From mechanical failure to cyber security threats how does government and regulation view these issues as AMR's fill our streets and shopping plazas?

Final words of wisdom (starting at 51:00)

Lisa: "Governments need to create responsible regulations... you do that because you want to promote the safety of the people in your communities but also because you want that investment in innovation in your communities. Good regulation for responsible companies is essential. It doesn't just force behaviour... it will help generate income and investment and create jobs in local areas. Also - if your robot sings, everybody likes it more!
Helen: "Work with your communities - don't do things to them. Listen to people; they've got real fears... If you've got good, reputable, responsible partners (which we have in Starship and Co-op), then be brave. This is great technology if it's done right. And it brings a whole new level of innovation and economic benefits and climate benefits - but also fun and joy to the world. And the world's missing that a little bit, so enjoy!


If you would like to connect with the panelists on LinkedIn, please visit their profiles:

Download your free Executive Guide to PMRS:

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