Starship Technologies announced that starting today
lazy tech-savvy students at George Mason University can get food and drinks delivered via robot anywhere on campus.
A fleet of more than 25 robots will be deployed at launch at the Fairfax, VA school, which, the company says, is “the largest implementation of autonomous robot food delivery services on a university campus.” The program was created in partnership with food facilities management company, Sodexo North America, and allows students and faculty to use the “Starship Deliveries” mobile app to order food and beverages from Blake Pizza, Starbucks and Dunkin’, with more campus eateries to be announced “in the coming weeks.” The new service works with the George Mason’s student meal plans, and charges $1.99 delivery fee to anywhere on campus between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m..
Campuses have been on Starship’s radar screen for a while now. In April of last year the company said that it would be deploying 1,000 robots to corporate and academic campuses by the end of 2018 (Starship has since backed off that number and in an emailed statement said instead they’d been focusing on “new offerings to cater to the needs of our customers and partners including our new package delivery service, and spending more time working with local charities and organizations to ensure every member of the community is confident and comfortable using our technology.”). The company has raised $42.2 million in venture funding and counts Daimler Benz as an investor. Its robots have already been hard at work making deliveries on Intuit’s corporate campus, and roaming the town of Milton Keys, Britain, delivering packages and groceries.
When asked how Starship was making money through this George Mason deal– Was it just through the delivery fee? Was it through leasing the robots or a revenue split?– the company simply replied that it “uses different revenue models depending on location,” and that it “sometimes charge[s] a margin on top of the delivery fee.”
Colleges are becoming a hotbed of robot activity. Kiwi has been making robot deliveries to the University of California Berkeley, and expanded to Los Angeles with an eye towards delivering to UCLA. And more recently, Pepsi enlisted Robby robots for mobile snack commerce at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.
George Mason and the University of the Pacific programs are a little different however. Starship robots will be making straight point-to-point deliveries of ordered meals and drinks from eateries to anywhere on the GM campus. For its robot run, Pepsi is basically using an autonomous roving mini-mart filled with snacks and drinks that you can pre-order and/or buy on the spot, and will only show up to designated areas on campus.
College and corporate campuses are actually a great place to run autonomous robot delivery pilots. You have a lot of people confined to one general location for an entire day (and they all need to eat). If it’s a private campus, robot companies can sidestep city regulations required to operate on public streets (since, you know, a robot might catch fire). Additionally, for something like a college campus, you can train an entire generation of consumers to use on-demand robot delivery, which they will then presumably still want as they head off into the real world.
We predicted that robots were going to be a big thing this year, and Starship is certainly kicking things off with a robotic bang. If you want to know more about where autonomous delivery is headed, join us at Articulate, our one-day food robot and automation conference on April 16 in San Francisco!