A possible amendment to municipal code could soon allow remote-controlled delivery devices in the Zero Emission Delivery Zone program to serve businesses in all parts of Santa Monica.

Last August, a company called CyanRobotics deployed autonomous, electrified delivery vehicles on city sidewalks and pedestrian paths of travel as it sought to offer contactless delivery options that would help residents receive everything from sunscreen to ice cream. Several members of the public complained that the devices obstructed sidewalks and created difficulties for people who had to navigate around the devices; and since the company did not apply for a business license prior to deploying its devices, staff sent the company a cease and desist letter, which forced the company to immediately stop all deployments in the city.

Citing safety and a need to be proactive rather than reactive, City Council took up discussion on imposing a year-long moratorium on all autonomous delivery vehicles so the city could study regulations when the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic weren’t so prevalent. But Council could not deter a business that was willing to provide jobs to Santa Monicans, especially after hearing Councilmember Gleam Davis first-hand account.

“I was gonna start out saying I may be the only person who’s actually seen them in operation and I saw them twice,” Davis said as she detailed how the bots pulled over when they came across a skateboard, scooter wheelchair and heeded the right-of-way to pedestrians.

Davis added back in October that nobody knows when the pandemic will end and since remote-controlled delivery seems like a good way to minimize contact, she and Council later agreed to establish Santa Monica’s first Zero-Emissions Delivery Zone and included remote-controlled bots in the pilot.

The program, which participants hope serves as a successful test run so similar initiatives throughout the Westside can be kickstarted in the near future, has been underway for a few months now thanks to a partnership between the City, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and a number of private companies, so residents in the area may have already spotted robots delivering sandwiches or electric bicycles carting small packages from restaurants like Alfalfa on Main Street.

But with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic still enduring, Davis and Mayor Pro Tempore Kristin McCowan have requested that staff return on April 13 or as soon thereafter as possible with an amendment to the remotely controlled delivery device ordinance to allow remotely controlled devices participating in the Zero Emission Delivery Zone program to serve businesses in all parts of Santa Monica.

The item, which was added Monday, was requested to promote the community’s economic recovery and to help local restaurants and businesses safely reach their customers, the agenda reads. “Speed limits, weight limits and other operational requirements that apply within the zone should apply throughout Santa Monica.”

Brennon@smdp.com