At first glance, they honestly just look adorable. Little robots, making their way — every which way — across the campus of Bowling Green State University.
“They’re really nice and innovative,” said student Paige Harrod. “Never would have thought this would be a thing we’d be able to see here.”
BGSU is the first university in Ohio to offer this “robot food delivery service” to students and staff — back in March 2020.
In the works for years, they launched right before the pandemic hit, and folks started hunkering down.
“I think it’s just one of those cool things that BGSU was at the right place at the right time,” said Jon Zachrich, with Bowling Green State University dining.
It’s a partnership between the university’s dining service, Chartwells, and Starship Technologies.
The little robots go about 4 miles an hour and can operate through rain and snow carrying pizzas, groceries, drinks, you name it.
More than a dozen sensors and GPS help guide their paths.
“Also with the mapping process, they’re told where’s a safe place to go and where’s not a safe place to go — so they can only cross at certain crosswalks,” Zachrich explained.
“Sometimes it’s funny to laugh at them because they get stuck or just sit there and stare at each other,” Harrod said.
Hey, robots will be robots, right?
An app on the phone lets you pay and order from a variety of restaurants — Panda Express, Starbucks, campus dining, and more — and delivers right to your dorm room or apartment.
Students told us, the $1.99 delivery fee is worth the convenience.
“Definitely! I roll over my bed, I order my food, I roll back over and then just leave my dorm to get the food,” student Iyanna Banks said, laughing.
There are hundreds of people who work to fill the orders all day long, alongside students gaining valuable robotics experience.
And of course, one of the most asked questions:
With thousands of college students and dozens of little robots — how much do they get tampered with, or worse, stolen?
“Basically they have a robot LoJack on them so if anyone tries to mess with them too much, they make this really loud screaming noise like a siren and call for help,” Zachrich said.
Ah yes, because sometimes, even robots still need a little human help.
The university is now up to 65 delivery robots zig-zagging their way around campus, making an average of 1,000 deliveries a day.
We’re told when everyone is back on campus next semester, they plan to beef up the force to over 100 robots to keep up with the growing demand.
Starship Technologies hopes any university in Ohio that is interested in the program will reach out.
This story was first published by Homa Bash at WEWS.