Culture / Newsy

Food Delivery Robots Invade University of Houston, Turning it Into Campus of Future

These Autonomous Bots are Already Creating Quite a Scene

BY // 11.19.19

When it comes to planning your next meal, University of Houston is way ahead of you. They’re dishing up and dishing out the meals of the future — with autonomous robots, if you can believe it.

A full-on fleet of 30 Starship Technologies autonomous delivery robots are taking over the food scene at UH (and social media), thanks to their partnership with Chartwells Higher Education, which manages the university’s dining.

“Robotic delivery is affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly,” Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president of business development for Starship, says.

“We’re excited to start offering students, staff and faculty at Houston delivery within minutes when they need it most.”

That means UH’s more than 53,000 students, faculty and staff have eats from all over campus at their fingertips with a handy app. They can choose from any of the 11 UH dining locations — think Drexler’s, Starbucks, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Panda Express, Cougar Village Market and more.

And the service is already a hit — try 2,500-plus meals delivered in the robots’ first week of service — as UH president Renu Khator detailed in a tweet.

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This cutting-edge dining update is something of a first. The University of Houston is the very first institution of higher education in Texas to roll out these food-delivering robots on campus.

The futuristic process is incredibly simple. Users simply order their menu items through the app, pay a $1.99 delivery fee through credit, debit or Cougar Cash, and track the robot’s journey through an interactive map. Once their very own Wall-E arrives at the building’s nearest outdoor entrance, the user will get an alert.

Since these deliveries are the wave of the future, it’s no surprise they usually take a matter of minutes, all depending on the specific order and the distance the robot has to travel. Orders need not be scant, either. The robots can carry up to 20 pounds of food, or about three shopping bags full of groceries.

The delivery hours vary based on which campus restaurant users order from.

uh food delivery robot cougars
University of Houston’s new food delivery robots are becoming as popular as the Cougar mascots.

This service is no small feat. These robots are a savvy combo of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors that allow them to traverse sidewalks and navigate around any obstacles.

Computer-based navigation assists robots in mapping their environment to the nearest inch, enabling them to climb curbs, cross streets and travel after dark.

They can also operate in rain — highly necessary in Texas — and snow — not so necessary, but good to know.

Team Robot

Meanwhile, there’s still a human touch, in case you were worried about this innovation going all Hal at UH. A team of people can closely monitor the robots’ progress remotely and take over at a moment’s notice.

“This revolutionary delivery method will make it more convenient for the campus community to take advantage of our diverse dining program from anywhere on campus while expanding the hours of operation,” says Emily Messa, UH associate vice president for administration.

“By opening our campus to this innovative service, which is paid for by the customers, the university didn’t have to spend any money purchasing the technology, yet we’re enhancing our food delivery capabilities.”

Dave Riddle, Chartwells resident district manager, believes the robots will quickly integrate into campus life and culture.

“Robot delivery will also grow opportunities for University of Houston dining employees by increasing service hours and growing sales. It has also created additional jobs for students dedicated specifically to servicing the autonomous robots. It’s an important advancement for food service at University of Houston,” Riddle says.

It’s time for dinner, sci-fi style.

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