Starship Technologies and Sodexo, Inc., today launched on-demand food delivery services via robots at George Mason University. The companies are deploying a fleet of more than 25 mobile robots to serve a community of approximately 40,000 students, faculty, and staff in Fairfax, Va.
Sodexo and Starship said the initiative “is the largest implementation of autonomous robot food delivery services on a university campus, and is representative of Sodexo’s next-generation technology portfolio for the College and University Market.”
Pizza, donuts, coffee, and more
Through a Starship Deliveries app, available via iOS and Android, users can order food and drinks to be delivered anywhere on campus within minutes. Retailers participating in the program include Blaze Pizza, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts and 2nd Stop, a Sodexo-branded campus grocery store. In addition to food costs, each on-demand delivery costs $1.99.
Through the app, users can order their items, then drop a pin where they want the delivery to be sent. They can then watch as the robot autonomously delivers the items via an interactive map. Once the robot arrives, customers receive an alert, and can meet the robot and unlock it through the app. Starship said the delivery usually takes 15 minutes or less, depending on menu items ordered and the distance the robot has to travel. The delivery robots can carry up to 20 pounds.
Starship said the robots use machine learning, artificial intelligence, and sensor arrays to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. “The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night and operate in both rain and snow,” Starship said. The robots can be stored in pods located around the campus, where batteries are automatically switched in order to continue operation, with no human involvement, the company added.
Sodexo, which provides food and facilities management services around the world, said it is committed to developing and offering innovative services “that enhance the campus experience and meet the expectations of today’s students.”
“We’re excited that our students, faculty and staff get to be at the forefront of this pioneering campus food delivery service,” said Mark Kraner, executive director for campus retail operations at George Mason University. “Our commitment to providing an optimal campus experience is one of the things that distinguishes George Mason University as a place where everyone can thrive.”
“College students understand the benefits of technology on campus and expect it to be integrated into their daily lives,” said Ryan Tuohy, SVP, business development, at Starship. “With the hectic schedules students lead, there is a convenience for students to have their food, groceries, and packages delivered. Our goal is to make life a little bit easier for students, whether that means skipping the line, eating lunch on the lawn rather than in the café, or finding the time to eat better when studying for exams. Commuter students can even meet the robot on their way into class. We look forward to seeing how our service will help and support the daily lives and community of students and educators at George Mason University.”
Last-mile delivery by robots growing
Starship has been providing mobile robot deliveries in other locations globally, completing more than 25,000 deliveries and traveling more than 150,000 miles. In November 2018, the company announced an on-demand package delivery service for customers in Milton Keynes, U.K. Starship has also run pilot programs with communities in the Bay Area of California, including Mountain View, Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Walnut Creek. Since its founding in 2014, the company has raised more than $42 million in funding.
College campuses appear to be a prime location for last-mile delivery robots. Earlier this month, Robby Technology delivery robots began making food deliveries at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., in a partnership with PepsiCo’s HelloGoodness brand. At the University of California Berkeley campus, Kiwibots have delivered food on campus, although one of the robots made headlines when it caught fire during a delivery.
Sodexo and Starship said they plan to expand the delivery program to additional campus locations globally in the future. Users can follow the George Mason robot fleet through the @StarshipGMU handle on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.