- Students, faculty and staff at George Mason University can now satisfy their cravings for foods like pizza, doughnuts and coffee by summoning a fleet of 25 autonomous delivery robots unleashed on the public campus this week.
- A partnership between Sodexo and robotics company Starship, the self-driving bots will make deliveries on campus from a handful of restaurants and coffee shops, including Dunkin' and Starbucks.
- Participants use an app to order their food and access it from within the temperature-controlled mobile unit. Each bot can hold up to three pizzas along with a couple of salads and drinks. The bots travel at 4 mph and — the university says — look both ways before crossing the street.
Starship has so far raised $42.2 million from investors and its robots have completed more than 25,000 deliveries, TechCruch reported, but the George Mason venture is its first formal commercial deployment.
PepsiCo this month brought three self-driving robots to the 175-acre campus of the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California, where they'll deliver snacks and beverages ordered through a mobile app. An official with the food and beverage maker told The Washington Post that the robots tap into students' desire for healthy food on the go.
They're not the only colleges to give food access on campus a robotic twist. In the last two months, Ohio State University has offered students cooked pizza and bacon via vending machines. Xavier University, in Ohio, added a pizza vending machine — which it calls a Pizza ATM — in 2016. And Virginia Tech has explored drone delivery of food.
On campuses long dominated by dining halls and convenience stores, many students crave more variety, better quality and easier access in their food and dining options.
The robots at George Mason, for one, aim to meet rising expectations around food delivery, a Sodexo executive said in a press release. To improve access and quality, the University of South Florida brought a Publix to campus — the grocery chain's first college location. The 28,000-square-foot store, located near a residence hall, plays up its prepared foods, school supplies, and beer and wine selections. Retailers like Walmart and Target have made similar moves.
Beyond food access, colleges are exploring other ways to get the attention of tech-savvy and comfort-conscious students. Those include providing free laptops and tablets, offering lounges with big screens and enhanced technology, and sharing more campus resources and even relaxation tools from the college's website, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Other institutions, such as Pennsylvania's Community College of Allegheny County, have implemented new online recruiting, tuition payment and advising systems to keep up with students' use of technology.