Sodexo, Inc. and Starship Technologies have launched a robot food delivery service at George Mason University’s Fairfax, VA campus that will enable 40,000 students, faculty and staff to access the Starship Deliveries app and order food and drinks to be delivered anywhere on campus, within minutes for US$1.99 (£1.50).
With a fleet of more than 25 robots at launch, this 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.
“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. “This will enhance life for everyone at the university, and that’s something we’re continuously looking to build upon. 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.”
To get started, users open the Starship Deliveries app, choose from a range of their favorite food or drink items, then drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent. They can then watch as the robot makes its journey to them, via an interactive map. Once the robot arrives, they receive an alert, and can then meet and unlock it through the app. The entire delivery usually takes 15 minutes or less, depending on the menu items ordered and the distance the robot must travel. Each robot can carry up to 20 lb (9kg).
“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, Starship Technologies. “Students and teachers have little free time as it is, so there is a convenience for them to have their food, groceries and packages delivered to them. Our goal is to make life easier, whether that means skipping the line, eating lunch on the lawn rather than in the cafe, or finding the time to eat better when studying for exams. Commuters 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.”
The robots use a combination of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch. The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in both rain and snow. In addition, the robots can be stored in pods located around campus, where their batteries are automatically switched, so they can continue to operate independently, with no human involvement.
“University dining programs are evolving their strategies to meet this generation’s elevated expectations, such as better quality, variety and service delivery,” said Jim Jenkins, CEO of Universities East, Sodexo USA. “George Mason University’s culture of innovation and early adoption makes it the perfect campus for Sodexo and Starship to introduce this cutting-edge technology and enhance the campus experience for the entire school community.”
Sodexo and Starship plan to expand the program to additional campus locations globally in the future.