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University of Kentucky testing out new food delivery robots

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Posted at 5:30 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 18:19:55-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — No, you’re not imagining them. This fall, a fleet of small robots are rolling out at the University of Kentucky.

They’re part of a new food delivery service called Starship. And just like students at the beginning of the semester, they’re all over campus.

“I thought they were kinda cute,” said sophomore Sophia Dal Pra. “I mean, they’re, like, tiny, and they deliver you food. Kinda like a little servant.”

Small but mighty, there are 30 Starships in the fleet at UK. They sync with an app anyone can download for iPhone or Android, and delivery on campus costs $1.99. Students can order from seven different eateries, and they can even use their Flex account or Plus Dollars to pay for food. Once the robot arrives to the customer at a predetermined location, it unlocks with their phone.

Starship is keeping human workers at Rising Roll busy this semester, the restaurant’s manager told LEX 18. She also demonstrated how they get a robot ready for a cross-campus mission, by using their phone to access the inner compartment and send it off.

When we tested the app out for ourselves, the process was slightly more difficult. We ended up canceling our order for two sandwiches after waiting for almost an hour. The initial ETA was 11 minutes. Starship’s in-app customer service was helpful and gave us a refund, but we didn’t get an explanation for the delay.

Still, students we spoke to said they were excited to see the robots and wondered what they might be tasked with next.

“I’m interested to see, now that the robots are on campus, where things go from here,” said junior Marlee Scholten.

Starship is currently partnering with schools across the country including Arizona State University, Purdue University, University of California, Los Angeles, George Mason University, Northern Arizona University and Bowling Green State University.

UK also sent out the following information about the robots last week:

“The robots are sanitized at the end of the day when they return to their storage facility in K-Lair. If a UK Dining employee sees something that has spilled in the robot, they will clean it up before putting the next order inside.

Starship’s zero-emission robots use a combination of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence, and sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch. The robots make more than 80,000 road crossings every day and can also climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in both rain and snow.”