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Robots bring contactless food delivery to campus

A fleet of 40 delivery robots roam the Tempe campus delivering food

20200914 Starship Robots-4.jpg

ASU food delivery robots are stationed in front of each other after delivering food on the Tempe campus on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020.

With the help of 40 white, six-wheeled, two-foot-tall delivery carts and the phone application that commands them, students across ASU's Tempe campus can now order and receive food from 14 restaurants and POD Markets.

The delivery robots, powered by a partnership between Starship Technologies and Sun Devil Dining, arrived on campus in the spring semester to provide contactless delivery to students for a $1.99 fee.

Chris Neider, senior manager of business development at Starship Technologies, said the robots come equipped with nine cameras, radars and ultrasonics to help them navigate to drop-off sites. Because of this technology, the robots are able to travel just as humans do — stop at crosswalks, avoid bikers and use GPS.

In case something goes wrong, there is a feature built into the robot that alerts a worker to take control and get them where they need to go.

To use the robots, students download the Starship app, through which they order food. From there, users choose the location they want the robot to deliver their orders to and track its progress along the way. The robots are available for use while the restaurants are open. They can travel within a set proximity of campus, which is visible through the app. 

Food vendors load orders into the robots using gloves and wipe down the robots before they are sent to users' chosen delivery sites. Users swipe a button in the app to retrieve their food from inside the robot. 

"The founders had big visions for changing the world in meaningful ways. I think in a way they’re kind of visionaries," Neider said. "They saw a big challenge and thought, 'There’s got to be a better way to create a new and improved way of moving things around.'"

For now, the Tempe campus is the only one of ASU's four campuses to host the robots. At the time of publication, it is unclear whether the robots will come to the Downtown Phoenix, West or Polytechnic campuses.

Shanice Curtis, marketing manager for Sun Devil Dining, said the University was planning on bringing the robots to campus since before the pandemic hit.

"We're looking to expand more as it grows, but so far we have only a certain amount of locations as far as that we're using the starship robots," Curtis said.

The robots have become a popular addition to campus among many students, earning praise and becoming the subject of memes on social media.

Maddy Skrovan, a freshman marketing major, said using the robots is similar to using Uber Eats or Postmates, but instead of a person delivering orders, it is the two-foot tall robots. 

“I feel like they just bring everyone joy around campus," Skrovan said. "When you see them rolling around, people just stop to let them go, take videos of them or laugh at them.”

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Lauren KobleyCommunity Reporter

Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times. 

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