Beginning in July, pedestrians will have to share Virginia sidewalks with Personal Delivery Devices (PDD).
According to new legislation, the PDDs will not be classified as vehicles and will be able to access sidewalks, shared-use pathways, and crosswalks. Additionally, the drones must be less than 50 pounds and cannot travel over 10 mph. The drone operators must monitor the devices closely and have the ability to remotely take control of the drone should the need arise. Proponents argue that the devices can help reduce traffic congestion and pollution, while also decreasing costs for both customers and businesses.
In the Virginia Legislature, Sen. Bill DeSteph and Del. Ronald Villanueva, both Republicans, sponsored identical bills in their respective houses. The legislation was approved by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Feb. 24 and it goes into effect on July 1, 2017.
“Passage of the legislation demonstrates Virginia’s continuing commitment to the unmanned industry and demonstrates that the Commonwealth is open to growing this market in Virginia,” said DeSteph in a statement by PDD maker Starship Technologies.
According to Starship Technologies, this legislation marks the first official statewide approval for the use of PDDs on sidewalks, shared-use paths, and crosswalks in the United States. Similar legislation has been proposed in Florida and Idaho. Nearby Washington, D.C., also passed legislation last June to allow PDDs to use sidewalks.
While proponents of PDDs see them as a way to decrease delivery times and improve the customer experience, detractors worry about safety concerns. Though the drones are kept to a low speed, a 50-pound device could still injure pedestrians. Additionally, since the drones are able to cross roads, they could cause car accidents or property damage should they enter the roadway at the wrong time. As with most new technologies, PDD makers are launching pilot deployments across the world to work out the kinks before a major deployment. The devices are already being deployed in Bern, Switzerland; Fayetteville, Ark.; Hamburg, Germany; London; Redwood City, Calif.; San Francisco; Tallinn, Estonia; and Washington, D.C.
Many PDD makers rent their devices out to businesses, but if the technology becomes more popular, businesses may begin to purchase their own PDD fleet. Starship rents its drones out for $1 per delivery by local businesses; however, deliveries must be within 2 miles of the device’s home base.