HOUSTON — Racing across the University of Houston campus to grab a meal between classes is so 2018.
As of Monday, food is now being delivered to students and staff by robots.
Starship Technologies just released 30 autonomous robots on the UH main campus. UH is the first university in Texas to offer a robotic food delivery service.
"I think a big part of it is trying to reach people where they’re at," said David Riddle who oversees the dining experience at UH. "When they need food and get it to them when they want it."
The whole process from start to finish is very futuristic. It's all done through the Starship Deliveries app that you can download on your Apple or Android cellphone. You choose your meal from one of 11 on-campus dining halls and you drop a GPS pin of where you'd like the meal delivered. From there, the dining hall prepares the meal and then uses the app to unlock an insulated box within the robot.
You can track the order and the robot's whereabouts through the app and you receive an alert when the robot has arrived. The technology can get the robot within an inch of where the location pin was dropped.
The customer then uses the app on their cellphone to unlock the box and remove the food. The robot can carry up to 20 pounds and carries and delivers one order at a time.
"Robots are, sort of, received with mixed enthusiasm," Riddle said. "Some are excited about the convenience they bring, others are worried about jobs. Well, for us at UH, we’ve probably had a net job increase of about 12 folks."
Eight of those new hires are students who manage and care for the robots. The university is anticipating the creation of more jobs because the robot is expected to increase food sales. And, the robot will deliver on-campus until 2 a.m., which is a safer alternative than students walking across campus to find a late-night bite.
The robot can operate at night and in rain and snow.
"Yeah. We’re kind of expecting tomorrow to be a big day. Because we will have some cold weather. So that will be our first great test."
The technology comes at no cost to the University of Houston. The service is paid for by customers who agree to a $1.99 delivery fee.
Humans monitor and track the robots and should something happen, humans can take control of the robot through the control hub.