Sidewalk robots are on the way

David Catania, spokesman for Starship Technologies, explained last month how his company’s personal delivery devices would work and why it needs changes in Arizona law to test and deploy the devices here. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

David Catania, spokesman for Starship Technologies, explained last month how his company’s personal delivery devices would work and why it needs changes in Arizona law to test and deploy the devices here. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX — Coming soon to a sidewalk near you: 200 pound autonomous delivery robots.

Without comment, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation on Wednesday authorizing these devices to use sidewalks. That in turn will pave the way for several companies to start rolling out the robots, which they say can deliver everything from mail to hot pizza, all a lot cheaper

that people driving cars and trucks.

The final version came after Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, was able to reinsert some protections and limits into her bill — things like that weight limit, minimum liability insurance and a requirement for brakes — that the Senate had stripped out of the measure after it cleared the House. She insisted on that in the wake of the crash of an Uber in autonomous mode killing a pedestrian in Tempe.

But Townsend said she believes the new law — with those protections — is a good thing for Arizona.

Officially called “personal delivery devices,’’ Townsend said she first saw them on a trip to the nation’s capital. And the idea got a push when lobbyists from Estonia-based Starship Technologies sought permission to deploy them in Arizona.

Only thing is, current law prohibits motorized devices on sidewalks. So Townsend carved out a special exception, giving them the same rights and duties as pedestrians with whom they will share the sidewalks and crosswalks. That includes a mandate to follow all traffic and pedestrian-control signals.

“It has to obey the laws and it can’t be mowing people down, obviously,’’ Townsend explained earlier in the session. “I want them to have to abide by our laws so that they’re not just running amok.’’

But Townsend put another qualifier into the measure: The permission of these devices to use Arizona sidewalks will self-destruct Sept. 1, 2020 unless lawmakers renew that authority.

Other bills signed by Ducey on Wednesday include:

• Requiring schools to have “reasonable and appropriate policies’’ to notify a student’s parent if anyone engages in threatening, harassing or intimidating conduct against that student;

• Creating a category of “dental therapist’’ and describing what kinds of things they can do and where they can practice;

• Making it a crime to knowingly flee from an unmarked police vehicle;

• Imposing stiffer criminal penalties on those who kill someone in an auto accident if they are violating other laws like running a stop sign or failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk;

• Adding a $4 surcharge to traffic tickets and the cost of attending defensive driving school to help police pay for new training equipment and software;

• Mandating that students and parents annually be informed on the risks of things like heat-related illness, sudden cardiac death and prescription opioid addiction before a student can participate in district-sponsored sports practice, games or other interscholastic athletic activities;

• Setting up a program, with financial incentives, to encourage food stamp recipients to purchase Arizona-grown fruits and vegetables;

• Requiring cities and counties to have public hearings before imposing new occupational licensing requirements on individuals and businesses.