Robot delivery services could be expanded throughout town after City Council voiced support for extending the service area for existing operators.

In October of last year, City Hall allowed remote controlled vehicle delivery services into the city. The terms of the initial approval partnered the vehicles with a separate Zero Emission Delivery zone project that covered the Downtown and Main Street areas. At this week’s meeting, Council asked staff to return with a revision to the rules that would allow companies to offer the remote vehicle service to any business in town.

The vehicles have varying designs but resemble coolers on wheels. While the services could operate autonomously, Council previously banned that concept and each delivery robot has a human pilot working from a remote location. Individual machines can deliver anywhere but the company has a preference for deliveries within a mile of the participating restaurant to preserve food quality which limited their ability to bring on restaurants or stores outside the Downtown.

Zach Rash, co-founder of Cyan Robotics that operates the “Coco” robot delivery service, said his company has completed thousands of deliveries since starting in October and hired more than 60 people for their Santa Monica based operations. He said the robot service allows restaurants to offer contactless delivery options at half the price of established delivery options.

“Restaurants outside of the downtown entry area are not able to use our vehicles,” he said. “They can travel throughout the city to deliver to all the residents. If a restaurant is in the Pico neighborhood or the Mid-cities area wants to partner with us, we currently have to tell them no. We would love to service them and support our community with the post pandemic economic recovery.”

The discussion came at the request of Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan. “I have not heard any complaints,” said Davis. “It’s not been raised at the Ocean Park association meetings. I did check in with a couple of the businesses that use them. They say they have not gotten any complaints. And in fact they’ve only received praise because their delivery fee is so much less than some of the gig providers like Doordash, the apps, you know, Post Mates, that sort of thing. So I’ve always heard positive responses.”

Council voted 4-2 to expand the program with Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra voting against the expansion saying the system was already part of a pilot program and expanding it before the pilot’s conclusion was premature.

“I’m all for everything in anything that is going to help our businesses recover, spend less money, you know, I understand this delivery service would be beneficial,” said Parra. “But by the same token, I’m a public safety professional and I feel it imperative that we let the pilot take its course to determine what if anything, has happened during that course, and then make a decision to expand it.”

Companies will be held to the same standards for accountability and reporting as they were before the expansion and the vote just allows them to offer service from more locations.