MOSCOW — Six-wheeled robots made a surprise appearance on the University of Idaho campus last week as they cruised the sidewalks taking distance measurements in preparation for a drug delivery program. on-demand food which is expected to start later this semester.
Although the robots are not yet taking orders, according to John Kosh, director of marketing and communications for UI Ancillary Services, they will eventually be able to transport snacks, hot meals and beverages within a 4-mile radius. .
“Let’s say you’re in the engineering building (Janssen) and you decide you want a burrito,” he said. “So you go to the app and you choose the burrito from a predefined menu. The robot will bring it to you; and you can follow (the progress of the robot) on your phone because it has a GPS signal.
The university’s new catering provider, Chartwells Higher Education, partnered with San Francisco-based Starship Technologies in December to bring 15 to 20 of the delivery robots to campus.
Chartwells’ Idaho Eats program at UI replaced Sodexo’s Vandals Dining last year.
The robots, which travel at 4 mph and weigh no more than 100 pounds, mapped routes and collected data on campus. The university is the first robot launch site in the state of Idaho.
“If a ship runs into a situation it can’t handle, it will ask nearby people for help through preset responses,” Kosh said. “We choose the answer and save it.”
Starship’s autonomous robots use radar technology to gauge distances, cross streets and pull themselves up sidewalks. Each robot has 12 cameras that can identify objects 200 feet away.
To prevent theft, the robots will “scream” if picked up by an unauthorized person. Also, their lids can only be opened using the customer’s mobile app or by the company supplying the goods.
Kosh says Idaho Eats hopes to allow students to use catering dollars to buy food through the delivery program.
“It would be ideal for the Idaho Student Union building to be the central location,” he said. “There are all the outlets in ISUB and it’s in the middle of campus, which has all this concrete around for robot parking. It’s a no-brainer.
The university plans to continue using the robots this summer to troubleshoot problems as foot traffic on campus is lighter.
“People who want curbside service will basically be able to get it from a robot, which is mind-blowing,” he said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll have them delivered before the finals start.”