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South Korea's Sidewalk Revolution: Delivery Robots Roam Freely After Legal Changes Boost Automation Prospect

In a race to perfect the "last mile" of delivery, companies in South Korea are seizing the opportunity presented by recent legal changes that now allow delivery robots to use sidewalks.

Previously classified as vehicles, delivery robots were prohibited from traveling on sidewalks. However, legislative changes that came into effect in November have lifted the ban, paving the way for robots certified for safety to operate on sidewalks.

This significant development is expected to accelerate the commercialisation of delivery robots, as they no longer need to be designed to match the speed of cars. The new regulations define delivery robots as weighing 500 kilograms or less, having a width of 80 centimeters or narrower, and traveling at speeds of 15 kilometers per hour or slower. These robots are now permitted on sidewalks if they receive approval from a certification body, which evaluates factors such as speed control, remote operating capabilities, and the ability to recognise traffic signals.

Already, food delivery services and convenience stores are conducting trials in a special deregulation zone. Woowa Brothers, the operator of South Korea's largest food delivery app, has launched a pilot program using delivery robots in a large apartment complex. When participating restaurants receive orders through Woowa's app, they load the order onto the Dilly Drive robot, which then autonomously completes the delivery.

Equipped with cameras, radar, and GPS, the Dilly Drive robot can travel at speeds of 5 to 6 kilometers per hour while safely avoiding pedestrians. It can even navigate crosswalks by detecting whether the signal is green or red. What sets this robot apart is its ability to communicate with the building's management system, allowing it to ride elevators and deliver food and drinks directly to the customer's apartment. This feature is highly unusual and gives South Korean delivery robots a unique advantage over their counterparts in other countries.

7-Eleven, the operator of convenience stores in South Korea, is also conducting trials using delivery robots within an apartment complex. The potential for automated deliveries to reduce costs in various sectors, including retail and delivery, makes delivery robots a promising solution in the face of rising labor costs.

  • Legislative changes in South Korea now allow delivery robots to use sidewalks.

  • Delivery robots must meet specific criteria and receive certification to operate on sidewalks.

  • Woowa Brothers and 7-Eleven are conducting trials using delivery robots in apartment complexes.


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