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This VA University Now Delivers Groceries to Students via Autonomous Vehicles

This VA University Now Delivers Groceries to Students via Autonomous Robots
25-plus small autonomous vehicles will deliver to 40,000 people on George Mason University's Fairfax, Va., campus

Autonomous vehicles are now delivering groceries from a campus grocery store and food from several foodservice outlets to students on George Mason University's Fairfax, Va., campus.

Made possible through a partnership between Gaithersburg, Md.-based foodservice company Sodexo Inc. and San Francisco-based autonomous vehicle developer Starship Technologies, the new delivery service supplies 25-plus small vehicles, allowing George Mason's 40,000 students, faculty members and staffers to have products delivered anywhere on campus, within minutes, for $1.99 per delivery. The Starship Deliveries mobile app – which is both iOS- and Android-compatible – allows ordering of items from campus grocer 2nd Stop, Blaze Pizza, Starbucks and Dunkin'. More partners will be revealed in the coming weeks.

The service, which works in conjunction with student meal plans, is intended to make food and beverages more accessible to ease the hectic lives of students and faculty. It's said to be the largest implementation of autonomous-robot food-delivery services on a university campus.

"We're excited that our students, faculty and staff get to be at the forefront of this pioneering campus food-delivery service," said Mark Kraner, executive director for campus retail operations at George Mason University. "This will enhance life for everyone at the university, and that's something we're continuously looking to build upon. Our commitment to providing an optimal campus experience is one of the things that distinguishes George Mason University as a place where everyone can thrive."

To use the technology, customers:

  • Open the Starship Deliveries app on their mobile device
  • Choose from a range of food and beverage items
  • Drop a digital map pin on the screen where they want their delivery to be sent
  • Upon receiving an arrival alert, meet the robot and unlock it through the app
  • Retrieve their order

Each robot can carry up to 20 pounds, or roughly three shopping bags full of products, and is able to cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in both rain and snow. Robots make their delivery in no more than 15 minutes – depending on travel distance and items ordered – and are stored in pods located around campus, where their batteries are automatically switched so they can continue operating.

The robots use sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence, and arrays of sensors to seamlessly travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation uses proprietary technology to provide precision in telemetry to the nearest inch. 

Sodexo and Starship Technologies plan to expand the foodservice- and grocery-delivery technology to additional campus locations globally in the future.

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