A fleet of delivery robots could soon be coming to a campus near you

We last heard about Starship Technologies‘ diminutive wheel-based delivery robot in 2017 when it trundled into trouble after a San Francisco official deemed it a safety hazard.

Using multiple cameras, an array of sensors, and GPS software navigate the path to customers, the autonomous robot was being sent out onto the city’s streets as part of a meal-delivery pilot. But a local official wanted it banned, claiming the 2-foot-high machine could cause pedestrian pileups, particularly among seniors, those with disabilities, and children.

While Starship Technologies attempts to convince skeptics that its robot will be just fine tootling up and down public sidewalks, it’s since come up with what many will consider as a far more realistic plan for its self-driving machine: Deliveries on campuses.

It makes perfect sense. After all, the robot would operate within a defined space with more predictable pedestrian traffic and ground conditions. There would be fewer hazardous streets for the 4 mph robot to cross, too, while the relatively secure space would eliminate the risk of miscreants disrupting its movements, or worse, stealing it.

Starship has been testing its campus-based delivery system at Intuit, a financial software company based in Silicon Valley, California.

As the video above shows, workers can order meals and drinks via Starship’s app and have them delivered across all 4.3 acres of the Intuit campus. Most deliveries take no more than 15 minutes, “giving people more time to be productive or enjoy their breaks around their campus, instead of standing in line,” Starship said in a release.

The system works pretty much as you’d expect. In other words, you simply choose your order, pay, and mark on a map where you want to meet the robot. You’ll then be told how long its likely to take. The company’s kitchen staff preps the food and drink, places it in a secure compartment inside the robot, and sends it on its way. When it arrives, you can retrieve your order by using the app to unlock the compartment.

Starship has a fleet of its robots zipping about the campus, each with a raised flag to make them easier to see, thereby preventing any of those pile-ups that some critics fear.

You might imagine that this particular delivery platform is yet another nail in the coffin of physical activity, but Starship’s autonomous vehicle doesn’t appear to enter any of the campus buildings, and can’t handle stairs or elevators, so workers have to leave their desks to collect their delivery.

While the most common delivery so far consists of breakfast sandwiches, the company behind the robot points out that it can of course deliver all manner of items, “from food and office stationery to tools and spare parts in large campus environments.”

London-based Starship says the campus launch represents “a major milestone” in its expansion plans as it continues to build on commercial delivery pilot programs in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia, some of which include sending the robots out onto regular streets. It adds that its robots have so far covered 100,000 miles in 20 countries.

Starship CEO Ahti Heinla said that following the successful trial at Intuit, it plans to expand its services and distribute “thousands of robots across campuses around the world by 2019.”

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