Public Safety Commissioners Are Skeptical About Robotic Delivery in West Hollywood

Members of the Public Safety Commission were less than enthusiastic last night about a proposal to test an “autonomous delivery vehicle” (a.k.a. robot) on the sidewalks of West Hollywood.

Postmates, one of several delivery services used these days by restaurants and retailers to get their products directly to their customers, is proposing a test in West Hollywood of “Serve,” a robot that delivers.

Vignesh Ganapathy, director of government relations for Postmates, said a positive impact of the sidewalk robot would be a reduction in the use of cars and trucks to deliver products. In Los Angeles, Ganapathy said, 80% of deliveries are my automobiles. He said Serve also would be able to deliver more quickly than would someone in a car or truck, who might have to drive around to find parking.

“The goal of the pilot program is to see how many cars will be taken off the streets,” Ganapathy said.

The robot would consist of a delivery box on wheels that would weigh about 50 pounds, would be about two and a half feet high and could deliver up to 50 pounds of merchandise. Ganapathy described it as being like a “cooler on the street.”

The robot would have two “eyes,” which would be cameras that use a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) tool to survey the area ahead with a laser light. Postmates would have a human pilot to remotely oversee a fleet of the robots. However, Ganapathy said Postmates would have a human being following the Serve robot on foot during the test in West Hollywood.

Commission Chair Amanda Laflen, who once managed Mel’s Drive-In, questioned the usefulness of a delivery robot. “I see it as disruptive and a hardship for a business,” she said, noting that it might block people trying to enter and leave a restaurant.

Both Laflen and Commissioner Ruth Williams questioned how the Serve robot would be able to deliver directly to those living in apartment buildings (renters, largely of apartments, constitute 78% of West Hollywood’s population.) Human beings delivering for Postmates and competitors like GrubHub typically are buzzed into an apartment building and deliver directly to the customer’s door.

Williams, who lives on the city’s Eastside and sometimes orders food from places on Fairfax Avenue that are south of WeHo, said she imagined delivery by car would be faster.

Commissioner Tory Berger, who travels largely by bicycle, said it was hard for him to imagine an autonomous robot moving out of the way of someone riding a bike on a sidewalk in those parts of the city where biking on sidewalks is permitted. West Hollywood residents already have been outspoken in their opposition to autonomous scooters and electric bicycles on sidewalks.

The proposed test of Postmates’ robot delivery service will have to go before the City Council for final approval. Laflen called out Postmates for reaching out to city leaders for input rather simply launching the system by dumping it on the city’s sidewalks, which is the controversial approach used by dockless scooter companies like Lime and Bird.

Ganapathy said Postmates already has tested the Serve delivery system in a senior living facility in Rossmoor in Northern California. He said it also has tested the Serve robot into Pink Dot, the store on Sunset Boulevard that pioneered on-demand delivery of groceries in Los Angeles with its opening in 1987. Robotic delivery devices also are being tested by other services such as Doordash. The video below shows a man trying to steal from a Doordash robot.

Ganapathy acknowledged that the Serve robot might not be feasible in some areas of West Hollywood like Fountain Avenue, where the sidewalks are very narrow.

  1. On the surface of it,this new delivery robot would appear to be a good idea.It isn’t when you consider most residents of West Hollywood live in multistory apartments.Those have stairs and the machine can’t climb them.Don’t forget some neighborhoods have atrocious sidewalks where it is hard to walk with cracks and tree trunks. I think this robot deliverer would be more at home in a leafy single- family (R1) home neighborhood where dogs can be walked and the mailman delivers mail to real mailboxes.

    To disable one of these robot deliverers,you need a hammer to knock out the on-board cameras.The robot will stop not knowing where to go. I hope the city council will not allow such a vulnerable contraption.

  2. We all knew there’d come a day when robots took over the world. Was hoping it wouldn’t be in my lifetime though.

  3. Very Sheldon Cooper. At what point do people in the technology realm lose touch with reality and common sense? I saw the videos and know that people in urban areas aren’t going to care about any camera.

  4. This is insane. If City Council approves this, They will have reached a new low in representing residents. This robot will be a public nuisance and safety issue. We should not have to move out of the way for a robot on a public sidewalk for a private company making money. Why should we give up our sidewalks to private business? It’s bad enough we have to watch out for skateboards, bikes and scooters on the sidewalks, and now this? West Hollywood loves to call itself a “walkable” city, yet they do nothing to make our sidewalks safe. The department of public safety should be the first to speak out against the robots on public property. Any Council member who votes to allow this is not fit to serve the people. Having said that, I do think the Sheriff’s department could used these robots to patrol the sidewalks.

  5. Noooooooo………we should be supporting human jobs not robots. How will this machine get to the door of a disabled or home-bound person that cannot get to the front of their buildings door? Can you imagine a wheelchair or someone with a walker trying to dance around a driverless box? Do you suppose that these wont be stolen or broken by someone who happens to be hungry or without food for a few days? THIS SHOULD BE A UNANIMOUS NO……..Just how much can we share our sidewalks? NO MOTORIZED ANYTHING ON THE DAMN SIDEWALKS.

  6. When CA govt stops stealing your tax money (which was supposed to go to trains/roads, etc.) which it then uses for its pet, political “green” projects, lying to people about climate crisis (Dr. Shiva A., founder of email with 4 degrees from MIT tells you it’s a carbon tax to make the larger companies who are exempt from it larger while they take over the smaller ones who can’t afford the tax; no proof of temp. rising when they change the goal post, etc.), then we’d have smooth/wider sidewalks, roads, etc. for these robots.

    We’re not getting the trains we paid for from LA to SF, or new roads or sidewalks. We are taxed to death in CA and have horrible infrastructure with 50% of the nation’s homeless who will surly vandalize these robots and I’m not sure I’d blame them if I were desperate and I knew their was food in them. CA we have bigger problems to deal with first!

  7. This proposal should have met a unanimous, resounding NO. Moving traffic from the roadway, where it belongs, to the sidewalk is something a school child would point out as ridiculous.

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