tiny mile toronto

People in Toronto are fighting to keep these adorable delivery robots on city sidewalks

It's been about a year since local tech startup Tiny Mile started populating Toronto sidewalks with tiny pink robots with heart-shaped eyes, which have sparked everything from confusion to smiles from passersby — and also, now, frustration.

The little deliverbots — who are all named Geoffrey — are maneuvered around by staffers in a central office hub, and have been providing a more ecologically friendly, cheap and admittedly cute way of getting food and other goods to residents in the downtown core.

Travelling at a speed of up to 6 km/h, the novel bots are certainly a unique thing to behold for the first time, and have often been photographed and even chased down the street.

For some, though, the invention is not quite as thrilling, as it can pose a safety hazard and even physical impediment.

"[The bots] create a substantial and worrisome new disability barrier impeding people with disabilities in their safe use of public sidewalks and other paths of travel," reads a recent brief from The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which suggests that Geoffrey and others like him be banned from public places where they could get in the way of those who are mobility or sight impaired.

And, with the support of City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the bid to rid our sidewalks of all "micro utility devices" — including deliverbots, self-driving or remotely-driven snow removal machines and other robotic service devices, scanning devices and personal robots — has gone forward, as adopted by the Infrastructure and Environment Committee at council last week.

But, residents are now pushing back, partly through a new petition.

"Banning these highly efficient delivery vehicles is completely illogical," the change.org petition titled Stop Toronto City Hall from Banning Innovation reads. 

"I've encountered many things that hurt pedestrians (broken sidewalks, bicyclists on sidewalks, cars on sidewalks, construction that blocks off large sections of sidewalk), but I've never encountered autonomous vehicles that have stopped me from getting anywhere."

"This is a law in search of a problem and will bankrupt an incredibly innovative company, and destroy a nascent industry," it continues. "People always talk about Toronto as an innovative city, but this law is targeting innovation and degrading the quality of life in this city."

Started by Mykyta Ponomarenko, who has no affiliation with the startup and says he was looking forward to accessing the service himself, the petition has accrued just over 1,200 signatures in a few days' time.

Ponomarenko has also been in contact with Tiny Mile's CEO, with whom he is further trying to organize supporters and contact council.

"I am just a regular person that thinks small automated robots will make delivery and accessibility for all residents of this city much cheaper and more convenient," he continues. 

"If we can foster these types of innovations and innovative companies we can make Toronto a great city, and if not the innovative companies will leave and startup investors will also leave Toronto."

Council is set to decide on the proposal on Dec. 15, and if the ban does come into effect, anyone who is found operating or parking a bot on a sidewalk or roadway will face a set fine $150.

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