Delivery robots have been popping up in high-end hotels. Now they are making their way to a younger clientele. PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: George Mason University looks like any other big college campus - tall buildings, dorms, green grass and wide sidewalks where streams of students make their way to classes, except here on this campus, there's something not so ordinary - robots. MADDEN: This is one of several dozen Starship food delivery robots here on campus. Picture a cooler on wheels that resembles R2-D2, if you're a "Star Wars" fan.
In the first days after a fleet of 25 delivery robots descended on George Mason University's campus in January, school officials could only speculate about the machines' long-term impact. The Igloo cooler-sized robots from the Bay Area start-up Starship Technologies -- which were designed to deliver food on demand across campus -- appeared to elicit curious glances and numerous photos, but not much else. It was clear, officials said at the time, that more time and more data would be necessary to understand whether the robots would actually change the campus culture or become a forgettable novelty. Today, some of that data emerged for the first time. In the two months since the robots arrived at the Fairfax, Va.-based school, an extra 1,500 breakfast orders have been delivered autonomously, according to Starship Technologies and Sodexo, a company that manages food services for GMU on contract and works closely with the robots.
At most universities, meal plans allow college students to take advantage of on-campus cafeterias or chow down at local restaurants. Now, thousands of students at George Mason University will have another dining option at their disposal: on-demand food delivery via an autonomous robot on wheels. The school has received a fleet of 25 delivery robots that can haul up to 20 pounds each as they roll across campus at four miles per hour, according to Starship Technologies, the Estonia-based robotics company that created the delivery vehicles. The company -- which claims its robots can make deliveries in 15 minutes or less -- says the Fairfax, Va.-based school is the first campus in the country to incorporate robots into its student dining plan and has the largest fleet of delivery roots on any university campus. "Students and teachers have little free time as it is, so there is a convenience for them to have their food, groceries and packages delivered to them," said Ryan Tuohy, Starship Technology's senior vice president of business development.
Make way for more robots bearing lattes and doughnuts for college students. Starship Technologies has a fleet of 25 mini robots descending upon the George Mason University campus, in Fairfax, Virginia, on Tuesday. The bots will deliver food and drinks to the 40,000 students, faculty, and staff. The first retailers to bring hungry college kids supplies are Starbucks, Blaze Pizza, and Dunkin'. The food and beverages come in what looks like a white cooler on six wheels.
The little white robot on wheels began its journey outside Blaze Pizza. Hanging a quick right, the machine rolled past groups of hurried students, over sidewalk cracks and twigs, down a ramp, up a hill, and across a two-lane street -- pausing briefly to "look" for cars. Fifteen minutes after departing, the robot arrived outside Commonwealth Hall, a freshman dorm on the northwest side of the George Mason University campus, where Shamor Williams was waiting. The hungry 19-year-old had never ordered lunch from a robot before, but the Internet technology major operated like a pro. Casually opening the device's lid with his smartphone, he removed a 10-inch cheese pizza, pausing only to reflect upon his novel encounter with a semiautonomous machine when asked.