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Food Delivery Robots at the University of Idaho

FOOD DELIVERY ROBOTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO

At the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, there’s a lot of buzz about these little devices cruising around campus.

“I was actually a little confused, I wasn’t really sure what they were.

I had never seen anything like this ever before,” said University of Idaho Senior Carlos Arriaga.

“It’s pretty neat, this is the first campus in Idaho to have food delivery robots,” said Andrew Tucker, Starship Technologies Site Lead.

“Definitely something that I was surprised to see but it was really cool, honestly. Especially when I found out what they actually did.  I didn’t know they delivered food until I saw the big ole sticker that said, Hey, I deliver food,” said Arriaga.

“We launched on campuses in 2018 and now this is about the 25th campus in the United States. We also operate in 5 countries,” said Tucker.

The autonomous delivery robots are a product of Starship Technologies, a company started in 2014 by the founders of Skype. It’s headquartered in San Francisco, with engineering operations based in Estonia. To use it, you download the Starship App onto your smartphone, and then you can order from one of the restaurants on campus.

“When you place your order, prior to that you just tell it where you want it to meet you, so that it’s going to be outside in front of your dorm room or in front of your house if you’re here on campus housing,” said Tucker.

“Once I downloaded the app it was super easy to navigate. You just pick a location where you want the robot to go, it has a real time tracker so you can track it, and then you come outside and pick up your food. Super easy to use,” said Arriaga.

“I ordered a bagel and a coffee, yeah. I had 15 minutes in between classes so I thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to test it out and it worked perfectly.”

“Did you really need the bagel, or did you just want to see how it worked?”

“Honestly I just kinda wanted to test it out.” – Laughs –

“Whether you’re in the admin building and you don’t have time to and you don’t have time to run down here and grab food, it allows you to skip the line, order ahead and have it delivered right to you,” said Kim Howe, Idaho Eats Marketing and Guest Experience at University of Idaho.

“It costs the price of a meal plus a $1.99 delivery fee, which is very reasonable compared to other delivery fees out there. And it integrates into our meal plan so all students on a meal plan if they have Dining Dollars, their Dining Dollars cover everything including the cost of the meal and including that $1.99 delivery fee. So, it’s amazing, it’s a great value add for students on a meal plan and faculty and staff members on a meal plan. It gives them that extra convenience,” said Howe.

And if you’re not on a meal plan you can just use a regular credit card.

The robot cruises along at up to 4 mph, and can hold about 20 pounds in its delivery compartment, which is cleaned before and after each delivery.

“It has a full sweet of accessories, so you can put a pizza box in there if you have to. And then you can have to six drinks in there and you can still fit a whole bunch of stuff in there,” said Tucker.

“At the front there’s a whole bunch of cameras and other sensors, there’s onsite stuff that keep it from running into nearby obstacles, but then it’s running on a map that it gets from an A.I. so it actually gets plotted by a computer that when an order comes in like say you place your order, the A.I. makes a path for it and that’s optimized per trip so it just starts working on better paths and better times to get to you so it speeds up over time because it’s learning about that,” said Tucker.

It can even cross streets, waiting for cars to pass first.

“We’ve done about 140,000 robot crossing a day worldwide,” said Tucker.

You’re notified when it’s about to arrive so can you go outside to meet it.

The lid is locked during transport, and can only be opened using the app.

“You just bring your phone out and it says, I’m next to the robot and you say yes I am. And then it asks you if you want to unlock the lid and you say yes I do,” said Tucker.

“Here’s your delivery.” “Cute. Cool.” “That’s it? Yup! And then you tell it to go away. You tell it to go away? There’s a thing you slide and it says send the robot away.”

“Basically you just say I’m done with the robot, you swipe and it goes away, and it just starts on it’s next job, usually waiting for another order,” said Tucker.”

The robots have speakers, so they can communicate with humans they meet.

It can be programed with custom greetings, and even play music.

If it encounters any problems, a human operator can take it over by remote-control.

They’re currently running 15 or 20 of them on the campus.

“Not only is our current student population super stoked about it, but the incoming students are learning about it, and they can’t believe they get to go to a university that has robots delivering their food,” said Howe.

For the Voice of Idaho Agriculture, I’m Paul Boehlke.

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Paul Boehlke