Listen Live

(INDIANAPOLIS) — By summer, your carryout order might be delivered by robot.

Delivery robots like Scout and Starship move at walking speed, and operate on sidewalks and crosswalks. Trevor Vance with FedEx says they don’t replace workers, but make short-haul, same-day deliveries the company wouldn’t make otherwise. The robots can travel three-to-five miles to make food deliveries, or deliver other items, from groceries to auto parts.

Purdue already has a robot delivery service, but legislators are discussing a bill authored by Representative Holli Sullivan (R-Evansville) to make clear the robots are legal anywhere.

Cities and counties could regulate where and when the robots operate, but not what they can carry.

Supporters say the bill is especially timely because the deliveries are contactless, a plus in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Amazon uses delivery robots in Atlanta and suburban areas near Seattle, Nashville and Los Angeles. And Purdue uses Starship for food deliveries from eateries including Starbucks and Panera. Associate vice president Rob Wynkoop says the only safety issues have resulted from what he describes as drivers playing “chicken” — driving at the robots to see if they’ll get out of the way, only to discover the bots can’t move that fast. Even in those instances, Wynkoop says there’s been minimal damage to either vehicle.

While the robots can’t dodge a car, they can climb steps, and stop or back up if there’s a wheelchair or stroller in front of them.