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University of Tennessee food delivery gets 21st century upgrade

The fleet of 40 autonomous robots will deliver meals from 16 on-campus restaurants including Einstein Bros. Bagels, Steak ‘n Shake, Starbucks and Subway.
The fleet of 40 autonomous robots will deliver meals from 16 on-campus restaurants including Einstein Bros. Bagels, Steak ‘n Shake, Starbucks and Subway.
Published: Mar. 8, 2022 at 3:26 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2022 at 8:50 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Students who order food on Rocky Top will now be visited by wheeled robots courtesy of Starship Technologies. The news was announced by university officials Tuesday.

The fleet of 40 autonomous robots will deliver meals from 16 on-campus restaurants, including Einstein Bros. Bagels, Steak ‘n Shake, Starbucks and Subway. Hungry students and staff will be able to order snacks and meals through the Starship app to send a courageous robot on its way.

The service will work with Vol Dining, the university’s on-campus food program, to accept VolCard, Dining Dollars and Flex Dollars as payment. Although the robots aren’t humans, they do charge a $1.99 delivery fee.

Starship Technologies operated around the world, UT officials said. “Its zero-emission robots have made more than 3 million autonomous deliveries and traveled millions of miles, and they make more than 100,000 road crossings every day.”

According to a UT press release, the robots will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to navigate around obstacles and cross streets. The robots are also weather-proof and have a team of human handlers ready to take control when needed.

David Haygood with Starship Technologies says the robots are loaded with sensors that help guide them through campus.

“With the robots, they can be loaded up by the merchants, and then it just drives throughout the campus sidewalks and go straight to your dorms or study hall,” shared Haygood.

Brian Browning, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Operations says the University and Starship are already planning on different ways the robots can help out on campus.

" You know we’re starting obviously with food, cause that’s what Starship specializes in, but we’ve having the conversations about the possibility of having VolShop apparel and items delivered to students,” says Browning.

UT isn’t the first college campus to use the new robots. Starship is already running fleets at Arizona State University, George Mason University, the University of Kentucky and Purdue University.

So far there are roughly 35 robots on U.T’s campus, with the possibility of more being added over time.

To read more about the food delivering robots, click here.

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