When you’re cramming for your physics test at SMU, you could walk somewhere to get a taco or a bagel. But that’s so early 21st century. Starting today, students can keep cramming—and let a robot do the schlepping.
San Francisco-based Starship Technologies has launched on-demand food deliveries on the Southern Methodist University campus with a fleet of 16 autonomous robots.
The six-wheeled robots will deliver meals from nine campus eateries: Cinco Taco, Einstein Bros Bagels, Lawyers Inn, Mac’s Place, Panera Bread, Rollin’ & Bowlin’ Acai Bowls, Starbucks, Sushic, and The Market.
Deliveries can be made anywhere on campus within a few minutes, SMU says, depending on the menu items ordered and how far the robot has to roll. Each robot can carry up to 20 pounds of food and drinks. (So if you need to supply a whole frat house, get ready for several robotic visitors.)
The side of each Starship robot on the campus reads “Hungry? I deliver to Mustangs!” A QR code allows students to download the Starship app, select SMU from a lengthy list of universities, and make their food order. Once they drop a pin at their delivery location, they can track the robot’s journey through an interactive map. A tap on the app will unlock the robot’s lid to reveal the delivery inside.
“I was mostly excited to order from the app because my sister’s campus has them, and she said that they were really convenient,” first-year student Kelsey D’Esopo told the Daily Campus, SMU’s student newspaper. “It definitely makes life easier for us living in the farther Southeast dorms; we won’t have to hike to go get food, especially if it’s going to be cold in these coming weeks.”
When the robot delivered her lunch, D’Esopo tapped her phone’s Starship app to unlock the robot’s top and reveal her delivery. Instantly, the robot’s speakers played the song “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars, according to the Daily Campus. Another tap on D’Esopo’s app caused the robot to do a 180 and roll away.
Starship has made over 2.5M autonomous deliveries
Though it’s headquartered in San Francisco, Starship is an Estonian company with engineering operations in Estonia and Finland. Founded in 2014, it’s already made over 2.5 million autonomous deliveries. It says its robots have traveled “millions of miles and make more than 100,000 road crossings every day.”
“We believe no other company in the world has completed this many autonomous deliveries—including self-driving taxi rides,” Ahti Heinia, Starship’s Estonia-based co-founder and CTO, said in a blog post in 2021.
Heinia was formerly founding engineer and chief technical architect at Skype. In his blog post, he said Starship’s funding rounds have raised a total $102 million.
Robots use machine learning, AI, and sophisticated sensors
The robots use machine learning, AI, and sophisticated sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. Computer vision-based navigation helps the robots map their environment to the nearest inch, Starship says—allowing the robots to cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in rain and snow. Human monitors are able to oversee their progress remotely, and can take control quickly if needed.
Starship’s first commercial delivery service launched in 2018; it now operates across the U.S. and in the U.K., Germany, Denmark, and Estonia. Its robots have gotten lots of traction at universities like SMU—other serviced schools include UCLA, Ole Miss, Arizona State University, UC Irvine, and dozens more.
In case you wondering, Starship’s one millionth delivery was made to Annika Keeton, a hungry freshman studying pre-health biology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
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