The Bulletin Board

Legislative committee approves use of robotic delivery devices

By: - October 21, 2021 10:47 am
A FedEx mobile carrier

A FedEx SameDay Bot on display for lawmakers outside the New Hampshire State House. A House committee voted unanimously to recommend legalizing those and other devices to allow autonomous package deliveries. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

New Hampshire could be on the path to legalizing and regulating autonomous package carriers, after the House Transportation Committee voted unanimously to recommend a bill to do so.

In a 20-0 vote Tuesday, members of the committee recommended a bill that would allow a “personal delivery device” or “mobile carrier” to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks.

Those devices could include robotic devices that can pick up groceries and follow their owners around, as well as devices that allow companies such as FedEx and UPS to deliver packages to doorsteps without immediate human involvement.

The proposed bill, House Bill 116, gives the devices “all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances” but dictates that the machines “shall not unreasonably interfere with pedestrians and shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on the sidewalk or crosswalk.”

Each device must also include a plate with an identifying number and the name and contact information of its owner, an addition lawmakers said was important to ascertain potential liability in accidents. Those who own and operate the devices must have liability coverage of up to $100,000. 

The devices must have brakes and may travel at a maximum speed of 10 mph on sidewalks. And while the devices are allowed to operate on roadways, local authorities can “reasonably restrict” their use on certain roadways, if they offer “an opportunity for input from stakeholders.”

Lawmakers said they came around to the idea after a demonstration of the devices outside the State House last week.

“I’m 77 years old,” said Rep. Larry Gagne, a Manchester Republican. “I don’t think I’m gonna be on this planet long enough to see this emerging technology really take off and be what you see in science-fiction movies. However, I’m wholeheartedly in favor.”

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.

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