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Perspective

My Fight With a Sidewalk Robot

A life-threatening encounter with AI technology convinced me that the needs of people with disabilities need to be engineered into our autonomous future.
A Starship Technologies commercial delivery robot navigates a sidewalk.
A Starship Technologies commercial delivery robot navigates a sidewalk.Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

One afternoon last month, as I was crossing a busy four-lane street that runs through the University of Pittsburgh campus, I looked up to see a robot blocking my path.

This wasn’t unexpected. Over the summer, several four-wheeled, knee-high robots had been roaming campus, unmarked and usually with a human handler several feet behind. Recently they’d multiplied, and now they were flying solo. They belonged to Starship Technologies, I learned, an autonomous delivery service rolling out on college campuses across America.