SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Thirty small, tub-shaped, six-wheeled robots are now trundling around South Dakota State University's campus, delivering food and drinks, making the school the first in the state to implement a robot food delivery service.
The white and gray autonomous robots, which are about 2 feet square and each topped by small orange flag, are made by San Francisco-based Starship Technologies. The company recently deployed a fleet to inaugurate food delivery on the Brookings, South Dakota, campus.
The robot food delivery service works in conjunction with the student meal plan and is accessed through Starship's food delivery smartphone app. Each robot can carry up to 20 pounds in deliveries to the 14,000 students and faculty at the university. The robots currently deliver from three campus eateries: Grille Works, Papa John's and Starbucks, with more locations to come.
Those who order food via the robots can make their order, direct the robot to a dropped pin on a virtual map in the app, follow the robot's trip, then use a code in the app to open the robot and retrieve their items.
The Collegian, the independent, student-run newspaper at the university, reported some mixed feelings about the robots among students on campus, as logged by their anonymous posts on the app Yik Yak, which allows users within 5 miles of each other to start conversations.
"One user said, 'I’m going to steal one of those robots and keep it as a pet.' Another user said, 'If you saw me kicking the robot, no you didn’t,'" the Collegian's Brina Sturm reported.
Starship Technologies says the robots use 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," the company said.
While the robots use sensors to drive autonomously, they're monitored by humans who can take control at any time.
"We are excited about this partnership, the robotics technology and the student employment opportunities Starship will bring to our campus," Doug Wermedal, associate vice president for student affairs at SDSU, said in a news release.
Starship Technologies said they're already on a variety of campuses around the country including Arizona State University, Purdue University, George Mason University and Northern Arizona University.
“We’re excited to make our South Dakota debut at SDSU,” said Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president of business development and sales at Starship Technologies, in a statement. “The winters can be tough here so we know the students, faculty and staff will appreciate the robots delivering their food and drink orders. We look forward to providing this convenient service and becoming a part of the campus community.”