Starship Technologies’ march on college campuses continues this week, with the addition of the University of Houston to the company’s autonomous robot delivery service. The Starship robots will now deliver food and drinks from participating merchants to students on the Houston campus.
According to an official university release, Houston’s agreement with Starship will see a fleet of 30 autonomous robots deployed in partnership with the university’s food service provider, Chartwells. The service is available to all of Houston’s 53,000 students, faculty and staff, and makes Houston the first university in the state of Texas to offer robotic food deliveries on campus.
“This revolutionary delivery method will make it more convenient for the campus community to take advantage of our diverse dining program from anywhere on campus while expanding the hours of operation,” says Emily Messa, UH associate vice president for administration. “By opening our campus to this innovative service, which is paid for by the customers, the university didn’t have to spend any money purchasing the technology, yet we’re enhancing our food delivery capabilities.”
To use the service, students must download and open the Starship Deliveries app and then place an order from any of the eleven participating UH Dining locations. On-campus merchants participating in the program include Drexler’s BBQ, Starbucks, Einstein Brothers Bagels, Panda Express and UH’s Cougar Village Market. Students simply drop a pin on the in-app service map to set their delivery destination.
Students can follow the progress of their delivery robot in the app’s interactive map as it traverses campus, and when the robot arrives students receive an alert to meet the robot and unlock it through the app. Delivery hours vary at the participating campus restaurants, and the service is paid for by the customer through a $1.99 delivery fee for each order. Houston is supporting payment via standard credit or debit cards as well as the student’s declining balance account Cougar Cash.
“This increases our capacity to reach more customers, and I expect the robots will quickly become part of campus life,” says David Riddle, Chartwells resident district manager. “Robot delivery will also grow opportunities for UH Dining employees by increasing service hours and growing sales. It has also created additional jobs for students dedicated specifically to servicing the autonomous robots. It’s an important advancement for food service at UH.”
Starship Technologies reports that, to date, its robots have traveled over 350,000 miles and completed over 150,000 autonomous deliveries. The robots use a combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence and on-board sensors to navigate on sidewalks and around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation enables the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch, enabling them to cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night and operate in both rain and snow.