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Self-driving vehicles & delivery robots proposed for Seattle

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The robots are coming (to make life easier)!

Given the way tech companies are changing the way Seattle looks, feels, and does just about everything, is it any surprise that the robot uprising is being planned right here at home? Two different reports today seem to tell the same story: The robots are coming.

First up is the release of The Madrona report, which calls for self-driving cars to be introduced to the 142 miles between Vancouver and Seattle that make up the I-5 Cascadia Corridor. The point being not only to make life easier (and safer) but also to "demonstrate to the world our Cascadia region’s status as a leading global center of innovation where governments and private enterprises can work in partnership to solve human problems."

An autonomous vehicle plan for I-5 could initially allow autonomous vehicles to share the HOV lanes. Over time, with more and more autonomous vehicles on the road, this would evolve into HOV lanes being exclusively for autonomous vehicles. The final step as autonomous vehicles largely replace existing vehicles would be to exclude non-autonomous vehicles from I-5 except for certain defined times when highways are not congested such as most of weekends and 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. on weekdays. The first phase of this plan could begin to be implemented immediately and the final phase could occur in ten to fifteen years.

The benefits they point out include, amongst other things, commuter time recaptured (think of what you could be doing instead of physically controlling your car while sitting in traffic all day?), reductions in vehicle accidents and deaths, increased road capacity, reduced congestion.

The report points to the facts that both Seattle and Vancouver are dealing with aggressive traffic issues and both also include booming tech and start-up scenes. They estimate a cost around $250 million per mile, which shakes out to around $30 billion altogether.

Considering we’re trying to approve a basic light rail system for the region (and still facing pushback), it seems unlikely Seattle is going to rally around something this futuristic just yet. But perhaps it’s something that will seem viable sooner than later.

One driverless machine we could see roaming the streets of Seattle much sooner is the self-driving delivery robot. Per GeekWire, Starship Technologies is currently meeting with Seattle lawmakers in the hopes of getting regulatory approval for a 35-pound ground-based robots that will make deliveries across the city.

The tiny delivery bots are actually about to launch a pilot program in Washington, D.C. If approved, the robots would be able to delivery parcels, groceries, and food, though the specifics would still need to be worked out.

The gist is that you would place an order online with an approved retailer. When the robot was loaded up (they can carry up to 22 pounds), you’ll be notified by smartphone. Then, you schedule when you want the delivery to arrive and the robot times its delivery (it travels around four MPH). The robot uses cameras and ultrasonic sensors to navigate the city. Robots would be stored in warehouses and also be distributed via vans driving around.