Order up: Robot fleet delivers food on OSU’s campus

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The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in rain and snow.

OSU delivery robot 102220

A fleet of 20 small robots began delivering food on Oregon State University’s campus on Oct. 21, 2020. The robots can carry up to 20 pounds and can keep food hot or cold. They use GPS and vision-based navigation to get around campus. Photo courtesy Oregon State University

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — This fall, it’s not just students roaming Oregon State University’s sidewalks. Robots are rolling through campus as well. 

On Wednesday, a fleet of 20 small Starship delivery robots began bringing food orders to students, staff, and faculty. The university said the plan for the robots was in the making long before the coronavirus pandemic began, but they’re making it easier to maintain social distancing. 

“You unlock it, get your food and then off it goes to get sanitized and prepare for another delivery,” said Kerry Paterson, director of OSU’s residential dining and university catering. 

GPS and computer-based navigation helps the robots navigate the more than 500-acre campus, but there are also humans ready to take control if needed. 

With the ability to carry up to 20 pounds, these small machines aren’t intimidated by large orders. They can also keep food hot or cold and will deliver items prepared by kitchens located within University Housing & Dining Services and the Memorial Union. 

  • OSU delivery robot 102220

The robots were designed by Starship Technologies, a San Francisco-based company created by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. The company will provide maintenance and IT support for the robots. 

OSU is not paying for the robots. Instead, a small delivery fee is added to orders to cover the costs. 

“Delivery robots are an innovative way to help students with social distancing and they also make sense for a forward-thinking school like OSU,” said Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president of business development at Starship Technologies.  

The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in rain and snow. Paterson, from the university’s residential dining and catering, said most people find them adorable. 

OSU is the first campus in the state to have autonomous delivery robots. 

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