In the midst of all of the handwringing amongst the public, and particularly, cyclists, about self-driving cars, comes news that a company is developing robotic trikes to be used in bike lanes to make deliveries in our urban centers. As one who tends to think that getting humans out from behind the wheels of cars is a good thing, given that they are prone to texting and talking on their phones, applying make-up, changing clothes, etc. while driving, I'm actually thinking that small delivery vehicles with the appropriate AI technology, will actually be a good thing. Likely they would reduce delivery trucks that are driven by humans (though perhaps not for long). Reports I have read have indicated that the trucking industry with actual human drivers may be ending in the next couple of decades as robots take over.
So, can a robot trike safely coexist with cyclists in bike lanes? Certainly I'd take extra care around one if I was traveling along next to it but I can tell you that I'm far more nervous around cars crossing over a bike lane as they try to merge onto 395 or homeless people along the Truckee River path who often behave erratically when walking, or crossing the path. I think I'll put my trust that whatever algorithm some programmer comes up with for these robotic delivery trucks over irrational human behavior.
The article is here but her is an excerpt:
Refraction AI, a robotic delivery startup, plans a lightweight delivery robot for both bike lanes and roads.
The company is the brainchild of University of Michigan professors Matthew Johnson-Roberson and Ram Vasudevan. eLab Ventures and Trucks Venture Capital are backing the company.
Recration AI is pitching its REV-1 as a low-cost, lightweight autonomous delivery robot.
“We have created the Goldilocks of autonomous vehicles in terms of size and shape,” said Johnson-Roberson, chief executive of Refraction AI.
“Our platform is lightweight, nimble and fast enough to operate in the bike lane and on the roadway, and we are tackling regional inclement weather patterns that inhibit or slow down other AV solutions,” he said.
But the cycling community is likely to object to autonomous vehicles operating in bicycle lanes.
“It’s a bit presumptuous for Refraction to claim they can operate in bike lanes. They would face a pretty big debate and permit process if they tried to operate in Portland,” said Jonathan Maus, publisher of BikePortland.org.
But Maus doesn’t reject the idea out of hand.
“If this is a more efficient and city-friendly way of doing last-mile delivery, I’m all for figuring out how to make it work,” he said.
The REV-1 is about the size of an electric bicycle. It is a tricycle and stands 5 feet tall, 4.5 feet long and 30 inches wide. It weighs approximately 100 pounds and can reach a speed of up to 15 mph.
The company said that makes it fast enough to make timely deliveries. Yet is still has a stopping distance of just 5 feet, far shorter than a delivery car or truck.
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.