With regulatory frameworks around autonomous vehicles (AVs) under development at the federal, state, and local levels, new autonomous technology frontiers are emerging for rulemakers. The latest is personal delivery devices (PDDs) – essentially small autonomous vehicles designed primarily for last-mile logistics using sidewalks and driveways, rather than public roads and highways.
Regulation of PDDs is truly nascent. Today, a limited number of states have, or are soon to have, PDD-specific statutes or regulations, including Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Each of these statutes has a few common features: Requirements related to size, speed, and weight limits, and active control and monitoring by an operator. Similar frameworks are also being developed at the city level, including in Washington, D.C. and Walnut Creek, CA.
The regulations are far from uniform. For example, while the Idaho statute includes an eighty (80) pound weight limit excluding cargo, the resolution establishing a PDD pilot in Austin, TX allows for up to three hundred (300) pounds excluding cargo.
The development of these regulatory frameworks is only the beginning: Similar to the regulation of AVs, regulators will have to look more comprehensively at PDDs over time, including at issues relating to human contact, cyber risk, and basic land use concerns, like the ones that have already stymied testing in San Francisco. There, concerns that PDDs may lead to sidewalk congestion resulted in a policy that severely caps the number of PDDs that can be tested. Similar restrictive policy responses are possible in the absence of comprehensive, forward-looking regulatory framework development.