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Food delivery robots debut in Idaho at U of I campus

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

MOSCOW – Social media immediately exploded when food delivery robots made their debut on the University of Idaho campus March 23.

“There is so much buzz about them,” Kim Howe, director of marketing for Idaho Eats, the university’s contracted food service provider, said March 30. “Social media was on fire the first week and it’s continuing to catch on.”

The autonomous robots can be seen rolling along sidewalks all over U of I’s Moscow campus, making their way to dorm rooms, offices and other locations, delivering food and drinks to students and university faculty and employees.

Carlos Arriaga, a senior pursuing a marketing degree, said he was pretty surprised the first time he saw one of the robots strolling down a sidewalk.

“I had never seen anything like this before,” he said. “It was definitely something I was surprised to see but they’re actually pretty cool, honestly.”

Like many other students on campus, Arriaga had to try one out for himself so he ordered a bagel and a coffee.

“I had just two minutes in-between my classes, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try it out and it worked perfectly,” he said.

People on campus can have food delivered to them by the robots from several Idaho Eats locations.

The service is provided by Starship Technologies, which debuted the technology on campuses in 2018 and now operates food delivery robots on two dozen college campuses in the United States.

The U of I campus has a fleet of 15 food delivery robots, which can each carry the equivalent of about three shopping bags of groceries.

Starship has hired 12 students to help operate the service on the Moscow campus.

The robots drive autonomously but are monitored by humans, who can take control at any time if necessary.

“Operators can help out if one gets stuck or broken,” said Andrew Tucker, Starship’s site lead on the U of I campus.

Ordering a delivery from a robot is pretty simple, he said. You download the Starship Food Delivery app, find your location on campus, select a vendor, place an order and choose where you want it delivered.

A delivery takes about 30 minutes total, on average, Tucker said, and an order comes with a $1.99 delivery fee.

People who place an order can follow the robot’s journey in real time through an interactive map. When the robot arrives, the user receives a “two-minute warning” alert and they can use the app to unlock the robot to get their delivery.

The robots can also be programmed to deliver a little bit of a personal touch and Howe said she has seen them play music and even perform a little dance for a faculty member.

They have even been known to say “Go Vandals” after completing a delivery.

Starship offers its food delivery service on the Moscow campus from 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m. and the robots make their way to a central location after hours to be recharged overnight.

People on campus “are definitely excited about them,” Arriaga said. “There is a lot of social media buzz going on. People are posting videos and photos and following them around. It’s kind of cool to see the energy they bring to campus.”