A delivery robot on campus travels across George Mason University.

Crazy! GMU unleashes food-delivering robots on campus

New service boasts a fleet of 25 robots on campus to cater to students' food and drink orders

It’s not quite The Jetsons (yet), but students at George Mason University (GMU) are able to satisfy their nutritional cravings with a little help from food-delivering robots on campus.

Sodexo and Starship Technologies launched the robot food delivery service at GMU’s Fairfax, VA campus, where more than 40,000 students, faculty, and staff are now using the Starship Deliveries app to order food and drinks to be delivered anywhere on campus.

Blaze Pizza, Starbucks, Dunkin’, and 2nd Stop, a Sodexo-branded campus grocery store, are the first retailers to participate, with more to be announced in the coming weeks. Each on-demand delivery costs just $1.99 and the service works in conjunction with student meal plans.

To get started, users open the Starship Deliveries app (iOS and Android), choose from a range of food or beverage items, then drop a pin to set their delivery’s location. An interactive map lets them track the robot’s autonomous journey. Once the robot arrives, they receive an alert and can meet the robot and unlock it through the app.

The entire delivery usually takes 15 minutes or less, depending on the menu items ordered and the distance the robot must travel. The food-delivering robots can carry up to 20 lbs each–the equivalent of about three shopping bags of goods.

The robots on campus use sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence, and arrays of sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. They can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night, and operate in both rain and snow. In addition, the robots can be stored in pods located around campus where their batteries are automatically switched so they can continue to operate independently, with no human involvement.

The initiative included a fleet of more than 25 robots on campus at its January launch, and Sodexo and Starship Technologies say this is the largest implementation of autonomous robot food delivery services on a university campus.

“This will enhance life for everyone at the university, and that’s something we’re continuously looking to build upon,” says Mark Kraner, executive director for GMU’s Campus Retail Operations, emphasizing the university’s commitment to providing an optimal campus experience in order to establish “a place where everyone can thrive.”

The move also speaks to students’ expectations–research shows most U.S. students pay close attention to an institution’s technology savviness.

“University dining programs are evolving their strategies to meet this generation’s elevated expectations, such as better quality, variety and service delivery,” says Jim Jenkins, CEO of Universities East for Sodexo North America. “George Mason University’s culture of innovation and early adoption makes it the perfect campus to introduce this cutting-edge technology and enhance the campus experience for the entire school community.”

Laura Ascione