The city of Philomath and a local high-tech company have reached an agreement to allow a robot to be tested on local travel corridors.
The city council approved a memorandum of understanding at its Oct. 9 meeting following a request by Nova Dynamics' Joseph Sullivan to allow real-world testing of an autonomous robot designed to deliver packages in an urban environment.
"I can tell you, we have a pretty comprehensive testing plan, which allows us to slowly expand our radius of operations and try greater challenges and things like that," Sullivan told councilors. "If I had to guess, to be frank with you, the kinds of things we're doing in robotics haven't really been done before. We're looking at proving ideas that really haven't been tried as far as human interaction."
The agreement, approved with a unanimous council vote, allows the robot, which Nova Dynamics named "Dax," to operate on highways, shoulders, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, bicycle paths, roadways, narrow residential roadways and throughways within the city.
Nova Dynamics will alert local law enforcement on any testing plans that would be done, a procedure that could change and be revised at some point in the future. The agreement also points out that the city assumes no liability for any harm as a result of Dax's operations.
Nova Dynamics has been working on Dax since 2015, Sullivan told the council in August, working with the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator network.
In general terms, Sullivan foresees Dax making deliveries of just about anything, including groceries. It's a service he believes could be especially attractive to the elderly and others who have mobility issues, as well as local businesses.
The Philomath Police Committee discussed the Nova Dynamics project at its Sept. 12 meeting. The discussion, with Sullivan in attendance to answer questions, focused primarily on safety and the committee ended up advising that an agreement be written so the testing could occur without changing municipal code.
It will likely be a while before the public notices Dax headed down a local sidewalk.
"I would say somewhere in the six- to 12-month range," Sullivan said in response to a question about a timeline. "We have a lot of things that we're working on right now having to do specifically with human interaction and communications.
"So, there is definitely a kind of a slow start that picks up pace as we're able to prove certain theories and ideas that we have," he added.