Delivery robots closer to being allowed on Virginia sidewalks as bill passes senate

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Your groceries may soon be delivered by a robot to your doorstep. Two Virginia lawmakers are working to clear the way for robots to travel on sidewalks.

It looks like a cooler on wheels, and in some ways it is. It is the delivery man of the future - minus the human driver.

It operates on its own with help at times from people at another location monitoring its movements.

Two Virginia Beach lawmakers are pushing for robots like this one to have permission to drive on sidewalks, crosswalks, and shared paths anywhere in Virginia.

Washington, D.C. already allows them to drive past walkers on sidewalks after passing similar legislation last year. Now in the city, for a few dollars, shoppers have the option of having their groceries delivered via robot.

"Once they receive the order, they can put it inside the vehicle, push a button, and the vehicle goes and nobody worries about it anymore," said Alex Leonessa, an associate professor at Virginia Tech.

Researchers on campus already know the benefits of robots. The robotics lab on campus is where humanoid robots are conceived and where ideas of using unmanned machines in everyday life are encouraged.

"I think that's inevitable. This is really where the robotics is going towards to, providing assistance to everybody," Leonessa said.

In September, the university helped in the air with national research on drones. Google teamed with Chipotle to deliver burritos high in the sky on campus.

All parties involved with the project were tight lipped on their research and continue to stay quiet about their findings - only calling it a success.

The company Starships Technologies out of London is working with lawmakers to make it possible for their robots to work here in Virginia.

If delivery robots are allowed on sidewalks, they'll most likely start being used in the Hampton Roads area.

The Virginia Senate unanimously passed legislation this week. A similar bill is working its way through the House of Delegates.

Both of these remove red tape and allow robots to independently travel on sidewalks to your front door.