Yango’s autonomous delivery robots will not be returning to the sidewalks of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, municipal officials decided on Sunday.
The decision came less than a month after the robots were removed following complaints that they were obstructing sidewalks and hindering pedestrians.
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality notified the Transportation Ministry that it would be terminating the Yandex group's pilot program, which began on a limited scale last year. The Russian company's Yandex.Rover, is a six-wheeled robot designed to replace human couriers.
Earlier in July, Ofir Cohen, the municipality's director of transportation, traffic and parking, sent a letter to the Transportation Ministry stating that the city does not believe that the use of the robots on the city's busy sidewalks "is appropriate at this time, and it does not square with the urban policy being promoted to benefit pedestrians."
"One of the ways we give priority to pedestrians is by limiting bicycle traffic on sidewalks," Cohen's letter stated. "It's understood that the robots, which are about 80 centimeters [31 inches] wide, could be a potential real nuisance for pedestrians on the sidewalks although we have also been impressed by the [robots'] smart-navigation capabilities." The concerns are particularly acute in the presence of people with disabilities and children in strollers, he wrote.
Cohen also mentioned ongoing infrastructure projects in Tel Aviv, including the light-rail project currently under construction and new bicycle lanes, as a constraint on the possible use of Yandex's robots. That being said, Cohen left the door open a crack for the possible return of the robots sometime in the future.
- Israeli Tech Firms Flee Russia, Fearing Sanctions
- Without Intel, Mobileye’s Route to an Autonomous Vehicle Could Be Very Challenging
- Fearing Sanctions, Russia’s Yandex Seeks to Relocate 800 Workers to Israel
In May, Yandex's pilot program was expanded to enable some of its customers to order groceries delivered by robot through the Yango Deli home delivery service, but the growing presence of the robots in the city over the past several months has sparked complaints about sidewalks being obstructed. A short time later, the municipality ordered Yandex to halt the pilot.
In its response for this article, Yandex said that during the course of the pilot program, it had made hundreds of deliveries by robot and received positive feedback, including from Tel Aviv businesses facing labor shortages that viewed the robots as a safe and efficient delivery method.
"Without a doubt, this is a missed opportunity for Tel Aviv, which will lose the prospect of developing this pioneering technology in the city," Yandex said, adding that the technology is being used in cities in a number of countries including the United States, Britain and China.
Yandex is not the only company that operates small delivery robots. Other companies, including Amazon, are also active in the field. Companies offering the service claim that when robots begin to be used more widely for this purpose, they will reduce the number of motor vehicles on city streets, lower costs, shorten delivery times and lower air pollution levels.