I’ve never been to Wisconsin, but people from there tell me that it gets cold about this time of year, I mean, it snowed there on Halloween last week, with more expected tomorrow and Wednesday. This type of inclement weather was actually the first thing I thought about when Starship sent me a press release today announcing that its robots are now rolling around the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M), delivering food.
Starship makes six-wheeled, cooler-sized robots that can carry 20 pounds worth of cargo. UW-M has 66,000 students, staff and faculty, and is getting 30 Starship robots those people can use by downloading the Starship app, ordering from three different markets at the school and dropping a pin on the campus map to set the delivery point. There is a $1.99 delivery fee and at first, the delivery area will be limited to a specific area before expanding across campus.
Pitt, however, recently suspended its robot delivery program after running into issues with the autonomous robots allegedly blocking sidewalk access to people in wheelchairs.
That type of real-world complication makes me wonder how the robots will do when truly nasty Wisconsin weather strikes. On the one hand, I’m sure that Starship and the UW-M have thought about this and come up with solutions. One advantage to delivering on campuses is that they are smaller geographic areas with lots of walkways and dedicated maintenance staffs to keep those walkways safe and clear.
But still, snow and ice could be big obstacles for a robot with little wheels. That’s one of the reasons Refraction.ai is using fat bike tires for its autonomous robots. Not to mention that the performance of lithium-ion batteries, like those in Starship robots, degrades in cold temperatures. We reached out to Starship to see how they will address the cold, and will update when we hear back.
UPDATE: Starship sent us the following statement: “The robots are designed to work in a variety of conditions including snow and rain. There is negligible battery degradation in the extreme cold.”
In the meantime, there are now 66,000 people at UW-M who are more likely to avoid the bitter cold and can stay in and order food thanks to Starship’s robots.