Effective July 1, 2017, Virginia became the first state in the nation to permit use of automated devices for commercial deliveries. Virginia law, SB 1207, authorizes “electric personal delivery devices” to operate on sidewalks, cross-walks and dual-use paths to carry products to individual consumers. This law is part of a broader state effort to establish Virginia as a national leader in commercial use of automated systems.
The law permits use of automated vehicles weighing less than fifty pounds and traveling at speeds less than 10 miles per hour, provided that the vehicles are always under the control of a human operator (even if that operator is working remotely and out of direct line-of-sight with the vehicle). This type of device is already delivering Domino’s pizzas in London and other products in a growing number of European communities, having reportedly logged approximately 32,000 miles on commercial deliveries successfully. The devices operating in Europe resemble picnic coolers on wheels, and they are outfitted with cameras, sensors, GPS and security systems.
Virginia also recently launched the Autonomous Systems Center of Excellence (ASCE) at the Center for Innovative Technology. ASCE has the mission of promoting development of an autonomous systems industry in Virginia.
Despite the new state law, local governments could impose restrictions limiting or delaying use of automated delivery devices. Virginia communities including Norfolk and Virginia Beach are actively encouraging use of these vehicles. We urge Fairfax County to do the same, and businesses in Springfield to explore ways in which these devices can help them reduce costs and better serve customer needs.
Craig Blakeley and Jeffrey Matsuura are attorneys with the Alliance Law Group and active participants with the Chamber's economic development committee.