Meet Marble


I’ve lived in this neighborhood for so long that I’ve grown used to tech start ups beta testing their schemes on my doorstep. I remember the first time I saw a car drive by with a huge furry pink mustache strapped to the front grill between the headlights. That was the start of Lyft. I have a clear memory from 2008 when a friend rented her apartment out on a new internet platform. That was Airbnb. Back in the late 1990s during the dot com bubble there was a start up that would deliver everything from milk to condoms via bicycle courier.

Meet Marble. This little pushcart size machine is launching the next generation of tech based business models. It’s using fine grained real time lidar navigation so autonomous machines can learn to negotiate the city “on foot.”

The initial concept is for robots to deliver Chinese food to your door. My guess is that Marble’s electronic pizza boy is just the first baby step to much larger and more lucrative contracts. The postal service, private package delivery systems, and utility meter readers will ultimately save billions on labor by switching to such machines. See also city parking enforcement. Meter maids will go the way of buggy whips. Humans and their endless need for salaries, medical insurance, pensions, and workers compensation will melt away.

New jobs will be created around the production, maintenance, and management of these new systems of course. But there’s the tricky business of getting people who are qualified to deliver pastrami sandwiches or check VIN numbers to craft algorithms – especially when a lot of this work can be done remotely from anywhere on the planet. Don’t expect the people who clean and reload these machines to get paid enough to rent a studio apartment anywhere near the Bay Area. Oh, wait. There’s an automated system that will do that too…

We don’t have a technology problem. We have a societal distribution problem. These trends are going to make an ever larger proportion of the population redundant. Wealth has not and will not “trickle down.” Instead it will continue to concentrate into specific hands in particular geographic locations. Focusing on the technology itself is a mistake. The challenge is to create a culture and a political framework where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of these shifts. History tells us that existing institutions don’t self reform. They fail and are replaced by entirely new systems. From where I’m looking that process has already begun and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.