A personal robotic delivery device that looks like a beverage/food cooler on wheels may soon come to Pacific Palisades.
Councilmember Mike Bonin’s transportation deputy Eric Bruins appeared before the Pacific Palisades Community Council on June 10 to answer questions about the devices, which he said were used successfully in Santa Monica during Covid-19.
A March 2021 L.A. Department of Transportation story (“Delivery Robots Come to Santa Monica”) explained: “As part of its push to have hundreds of robots rolling down Los Angeles area sidewalks by the end of the year, Kiwibot is partnering with food delivery search engine app MealMe to make more restaurant deliveries available.”
“We want every restaurant in L.A. to give their customers the option to order delivery through MealMe and have their food delivered with a Kiwibot,” said MealMe co-founder Matt Bouchner.
A rival company, Postmates, owned by Uber, has been testing the delivery robots in West Hollywood since April.
Restaurant workers can load a meal into the cooler, and then through remote control, the robot goes down the sidewalk at 5 miles per hour. A remote technician seated at a multiscreen Phantom console, with video game-style driving controls, can assess the situation via the vehicle’s cameras over a cellular network connection.
If the sidewalk is in bad condition or there is no sidewalk access, the device can reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour on streets like Sunset Boulevard, according to Bruins. (A typical device measures about two-feet tall, by two-feet long and 17-inches wide.)
The proposal to allow robots passed the transportation committee on June 1 and went to the L.A. Public Works Committee on June 9. It passed with a 4-1 vote and included the following recommendations: that PDD’s be limited in the roadway when a sidewalk is present; fleet size of operators up to 75 devices in a neighborhood council boundary; require companies to identify proposed neighborhoods to be served. The committee asked the City Attorney to prepare and draft an ordinance.
The transportation report noted that PDD’s shall yield to pedestrians and bicycles and not transport waste or hazardous materials.
The Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Street Services investigators may remove any PDD that is parked in one location for more than 24 hours. The City may include creating digital policies to limit the number of devices operating in certain areas through the creation of Special Operations Zones, modifying the fee structure to support the increase in the scale of deployment, or requiring a more equitable deployment of devices in disadvantaged communities.
There’s a recommended annual fee of $10,000 for companies that have up to 50 devices, and $20,000 for companies with more than 50 devices. Mandatory insurance would be required of companies.
When the Palisades Community Council learned on May 27 that the PDD proposal would come before the transportation committee (which includes Bonin as chair and councilmembers Joe Buscaino and Paul Koretz), they sent a letter stating that none of PPCC’s questions had been answered when the devices were first proposed in March.
In March and again in May, the PPCC asked if there could be an opt in/opt out option for these devices.
At the June 10 PPCC meeting, Bruins answered “No.” Every council district would get them, but companies would need to come before Neighborhood Councils before they were implemented.
Bruins emphasized that the City was making sure that some neighborhoods weren’t flooded with the devices by insisting the devices also have to be placed in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Advertising on the devices will be limited, and if there is an issue with a device, it can be reported to 311.
Community Council members had several issues, including would these devices put delivery people out of work; were there any studies done about the injuries with pedestrians/cars/devices (given that bicyclists already have to navigate crowded streets); and the fact that many of the sidewalks in the Palisades are not handicapped accessible and are broken.
No, there have been no studies, Bruins answered.
He said the devices would operate in a one- to two-mile radius of a restaurant, and as far as deteriorating City sidewalks, “We find out about them when someone trips and falls.” He was hopeful that cameras in the robotic devices could provide sidewalk data. “We’re anxious to get that data. The City could be more responsive to sidewalk repairs.”