Council considering 'delivery-robot' pilot program in Austin

The company is Starship Technologies.  The product is a commercial autonomous delivery robot. 

During SXSW, Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo got to spend a Saturday morning with the robots.

"They demonstrated it in the lobby of City Hall and it looked really neat and like something that Austinites might welcome," Tovo said.

The company is looking to do a full pilot program in Austin and during Thursday's City Council meeting, a resolution passed that directs the City Manager to look at the code to see if there are any obstacles to having the technology in Austin.

"There are differing opinions about whether our city code does, it sounds like there may not be any challenges in city code.  So hopefully we'll be able to get a pilot up and running in the next several months," Tovo said.

Last summer, on a rainy day Starship demonstrated their delivery robots in the Mueller neighborhood.  Starship said the robots are useful for packages, groceries and restaurant deliveries.  Once at your doorstep, you can use an app to unlock the secured lid.

And you might want to think twice about vandalizing or stealing one.

"The robots have 2-way audio so we can actually talk to people in the environment and listen to people...potentially even shout at people if we need to.  The robots of course also have 9 cameras on the front and back which can be recording.  So if there was an incident to occur we could put that thief or vandal up on YouTube pretty quickly," said Henry Harris-Burland with Starship in 2016.

You might be wondering -- how will these little guys not cause a 3-car pileup on Congress?

"I am going to rely on our transportation staff to make sure that their model is very sound and we did talk a lot about that element and they do have...they do have humans that are monitoring the progress of each individual robot in real time," Tovo said.

Tovo says the robots could help Austinites who are homebound and need deliveries from a nearby pharmacy or grocery store.

"This provides an alternative and one that doesn't involve adding cars to our roads and so in a city like Austin that has increasing challenges with traffic, it could be a very good alternative," Tovo said.

We spoke with the Starship folks on the phone, they say this is exciting news and they're also looking for partners in Austin who might want to get in on the grocery, package, restaurant delivery thing. 
Mayor Pro-Tem Tovo says staff will return in the next month or so with what they found out about a potential pilot and a recommendation about whether we should even do this.