North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and its food services provider, Sodexo, have partnered with Starship Technologies to roll out the university’s food delivery service via autonomous robots. N.C. A&T is the first historically Black college or university to partner with Starship, as well as its first partnership in North Carolina.
“As a STEM university, A&T and Sodexo’s partnership with Starship Technologies' autonomous delivery robots falls right in line with what we are about,” said Angela Peterson, associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises at North Carolina A&T. “We are incredibly excited to provide this service to our students to help minimize wait times and do it using a real-world application of technology similar to what some of our students are studying.”
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is the nation’s largest historically Black university, as well as its top-ranked, according to Money magazine and Washington Monthly College Guide and Rankings. It is a land-grant, doctoral university, classified as “high research” by the Carnegie Foundation and a constituent member of the University of North Carolina System. Founded in 1891, the Greensboro, N.C.-based university is known for its graduates in agriculture and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Starship develops delivery robots
Founded in 2014, Starship Technologies has developed mobile robots to deliver food, groceries, and packages locally in minutes. They have traveled millions of miles and recently completed over 2 million autonomous deliveries around the world, said the San Francisco-based company. The robots drive autonomously but are monitored by humans who can take control at any time.
Starship's zero-emission robots use a combination of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. Computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch. Starship said its robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel day and night, and operate in both rain and snow, said the company.
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, customers receive an alert and can then meet and unlock the robot through the app. The delivery usually takes just a matter of minutes, depending on the menu items ordered and the distance the robot must travel. Each robot can carry up to 20 pounds.
Service at A&T
Starship said its fleet of 20 autonomous, on-demand robots will deliver from three campus eateries: Qdoba, 1891 Bistro, and the new Paavo’s Pizza. A&T’s students, faculty and staff can now use the Starship Food Delivery app (available on iOS and Android) to order food and drinks to be delivered on campus, within minutes.
The service will be free of delivery fees, which will be covered for students by the university for two years and works with student meal plans. with the goal to expand additional retail locations by next spring.
“We are excited to be the first to bring this innovative service to a historically black college and university campus,” said Joseph Burdi, Sodexo district manager for North Carolina A&T Dining Services. “The program will provide added convenience for today’s busy students and meet their increased dining expectations.”
“Everyone on campus loves the robots and looks forward to using them,” said Brandon Daye, president of the Student Food Advisory Board. “They will really come in handy when the weather is bad or if you want to grab food or snacks in between classes.”
“We’re really looking forward to serving the students, faculty and staff at A&T,” said Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president of business development and sales at Starship Technologies. “We look for university partners that embrace innovation and A&T has that in spades. Because of the focus on STEM, we think the campus community will not only appreciate seeing this innovation firsthand, but they’ll also love the convenience that the service provides. We’re also looking forward hiring student workers who will get real-world experience in AI.”
The robot delivery company is already providing services to other Sodexo-serviced campuses across the country, including George Mason University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Northern Arizona University.
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