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Purdue latest campus to deploy autonomous robot delivery

Andrew Hudson   ||   Aug 22, 2019  ||   ,

Purdue University has joined the list of early adopting campuses that have deployed autonomous delivery robots from Starship Technologies. The unmanned delivery robots are equipped with GPS and geofencing technology and can navigate college campuses to deliver food and beverage orders to students.

According to The Journal & Courier, the Starship Technologies robots will deliver food, beverages, and other small products to students from the university's dining and retail locations. The robots stand roughly two-feet tall and resemble a cooler on wheels. When the robot arrives to its pre-determined destination, the student can use their mobile device and a code to open the compartment and retrieve their order.

"That could be a burger, a coffee, whatever the case may be," said Robert Wynkoop, senior director of auxiliary services for Purdue, in a Journal & Courier interview. "We've spoken with other university's dining programs and public safety offices and they have had no problems. This is just another option of a service."

The robots at Purdue were approved by the West Lafayette Board of Public Works and Safety, but only after some key concerns were addressed. Namely, questions over heavy snow and ice -- an annual occurrence in West Lafayette, Indiana. To dispel those concerns, Starship pointed to a deployment in a city north of London that has now been live for over a year with no reports of robots having issues with mobility.

The delivery robots will roam Purdue's campus sidewalks on a temporary basis for now, as part of a pilot program, until city code for motorized vehicles on sidewalks is changed. Should the pilot prove unsuccessful before that time, the agreement can be cancelled.

Private dining retailers leasing with Purdue, like the on-campus Starbucks and other brands, will have the option to utilize the Starship Technologies robots.

Purdue will no doubt have taken advice from some of the other higher education deployment sites. "This service is a good opportunity for people with disabilities to get food and goods more easily delivered to them, something we have heard from the other universities participating with Starship Technologies," Wynkoop told the Journal & Courier.

A separate press release from Starship Technologies is promising a significant expansion of its robotic delivery units to as many as 100 new university campuses within the next two years. These latest Starship deployments join the existing programs on the campuses of George Mason University, and Northern Arizona University.

The company's release also reveals that the company has recently closed $40 million in Series A funding, and will become the first company to complete 100,000 commercial deliveries via autonomous robots. Following the deployment at Purdue, Starship is working next with the University of Pittsburgh and Sodexo in anticipation of a launch in the fall, with more campuses to follow shortly thereafter.

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