Starship Technologies two months ago rolled out delivery robots to George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, and it turns out that was just the start of a quest to conquer higher ed. The San Francisco-based robotics startup today announced that it has expanded service to Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, marking the first commercial deployment of sidewalk delivery robots in Arizona.
Courtesy of an ongoing collaboration between Starship and food and facilities management provider Sodexo, this week more than 30 robots will start ferrying food and drink from Cobrizo Mexican Grill, Turnip the Greens, G’s NY Style Deli, the Wedge Market and Pizza, Star Ginger, and other retailers to the NAU’s nearly 25,000 students, faculty, and staff. Deliveries will cost a flat $1.99 and work in conjunction with student meal plans.
Starship’s mobile app for Android and iOS will handle ordering. Customers can select what they’d like from a menu and drop a map pin where they want their delivery to be sent, and Starship’s autonomous machines — which can carry up to 20 pounds of goods (about three shopping bags’ worth) in their password-locked compartments — will get moving, all the while continuously reporting their location. When they arrive at their destination, they’ll issue an alert via the app.
The first student who places an order will get free breakfast from Einstein Bros for the remainder of the academic year.
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Starship’s six-wheeled robots pack a wealth of electronics, including nine cameras and ultrasonic sensors that afford them a 360-degree view of their surroundings. They have a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour and are capable of recharging, crossing streets, climbing curbs, traveling at night, and operating in rain and snow without human supervision. As a precaution, though, a team of teleoperators monitors their progress — and can take control, if need be.
“We’ve been very pleased with how quickly Starship has been embraced on college campuses,” said Starship senior vice president of business development Ryan Tuohy. “These campuses are hubs of innovation and activity, with both students and faculty needing convenient and flexible services. Our on-demand delivery is perfectly suited to this environment, and we can’t wait to introduce our robots to the students and faculty at Northern Arizona University,” he added.
This latest deal comes after partnerships with Domino’s in Germany, food-delivery firm Just Eat in London, and DoorDash in the U.S. and follows the unveiling of Starship’s $10-per-month commercial package delivery service for businesses and consumer clients. The latter complemented the company’s large-scale commercial meal delivery service for corporate and academic campuses in Europe and the U.S., which launched roughly a year ago.
Starship is far from the only company vying for a slice of the lucrative autonomous delivery market, which is filled with well-funded startups like Marble, Starship Technologies, Nuro, Robomart, Boxbot, Dispatch, and Robby, to name a few, not to mention FedEx, Postmates, and Amazon.
To its credit, Starship — which was founded in 2014 by Skype veterans Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis — has embarked on dozens of trials in over 100 cities globally, and its robot fleets have completed over 25,000 deliveries and traveled more than 150,000 miles collectively. And it recently raised $25 million, following a $17 million round in 2015, bringing its total raised to $42 million.
The company has 200 employees, with offices in San Francisco; Hamburg; London; Washington, D.C.; and Tallinn, Estonia.
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