If you look up while walking on a college campus, you’ll most likely see a flurry of activity – students riding to class on bikes, athletes zipping around on scooters, Subway sandwiches and Frappuccinos cruising around on miniature delivery robots — hold on, what?
You read that correctly. There’s a new vehicle adding to the traffic of campus corridors: fun-sized autonomous food delivery robots, courtesy of Starship Technologies. The company is adding the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Kentucky, the University of Nevada, Reno and the Daytona Beach campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to its list of around 20 participating schools.
Meals on wheels
Starship Technologies’ fleet of 1,000 zero-emission robots have made more than 1.5 million deliveries worldwide, delivering from big-name merchants like Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX), Subway, Panera Bread, Panda Express, Qdoba and more.
“We’re excited to welcome such a diverse and exciting roster of schools to our service,” said Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Starship Technologies. “We’ve worked hard to become a trusted and integrated partner in our campus communities, and that hard work has paid off. We are continuing to add new schools every semester, with more to be announced this fall. The students love the robots and the schools appreciate the ability to offer this service. We can’t wait to meet the students at each of these schools and look forward to hiring students on all of the campuses to give them real-world experience working with robots and AI.”
Starship’s robots are all-electric, travel at pedestrian speeds and weigh under 100 pounds, capable of making deliveries within a four-mile radius. During transit, the pint-sized robots keep their cargo bays mechanically locked, accessible only through the recipient’s smartphone, and a tracking system allows users to see where their orders are in real time.
The expansion to four new campuses is just one in a string of wins for the autonomous vehicle startup this year. Back in January, the company secured $17 million in funding to bring it over $100 million in total funding. That same month, Starship reached the 1 million delivery milestone, eclipsing the 1.5 million mark just three months later.
“Starship was an essential service for many students during the pandemic. We consistently broke delivery records, even with fewer students on campus,” Westgarth said. “We heard from so many students about how much they appreciated the service, how the robots made their time on campus seem ‘more normal’ and how they helped brighten their moods during a really difficult time.”
And students aren’t the only proponents of delivery by robot – the market for autonomous delivery robots has a forecast compound annual growth rate of nearly 50% from 2021 to 2026. They’re a safe method of transport in the era of COVID-19, and the ever-increasing complexity of last-mile delivery services has carved out a niche for products like Starship’s that save companies from a logistical headache.
“We see the Starship robots as an important part of safely bringing students back to campus,” said Dean Kennedy, executive director of residential life, housing and food services at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Everyone wants to resume in-person classes and be back on campus so we’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s done responsibly. The robots offer several advantages – they make social distancing easier, they are convenient, the students we have spoken with love this idea and they continue our heritage of being an innovative campus.”
Starship Technologies robots are in limited operation at University of Nevada, Reno and Embry-Riddle, with full operations beginning when students return for fall classes. Service at the University of Kentucky will begin Monday and at the University of Illinois Chicago later this fall.