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Food Delivery Robots Roll Onto UT Dallas Campus

food delivery robot
Courtesy of University of Texas at Dallas

Spend some time on the campus of the University of Texas at Dallas, and you may see some robots roaming around. They're on a mission: delivering food and snacks to hungry students, staff and faculty — for a $1.99 delivery fee.

Pam Stanley, director of food and retail service at UT Dallas, talked with KERA's Justin Martin about this new program.  

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

The Robots Are Here:

The University of Texas at Dallas, we are a very technologically advanced university. We are always on the lookout for innovative new programs and platforms, and we really have a culture that embraces a new technology. So, we're the perfect campus for this. 

Why The Robots Look Like Coolers And How They Work:

It's actually by design. Starship Technologies actually tested out many different iterations of how it could look, and that was the most pleasing to humans, I guess is probably the best way that they would phrase that. It runs at about four miles per hour, which again is by design.

As far as how the program works, so it's an app on your phone. You can download it from and go either Google Play or iOS for Apple users, and you do everything on your phone through the Starship app.

We have about 10 venues that we've selected to launch with, with the option to add more in the future. So you order your food, your beverages, your snacks even, and the rest is handled all through that.

With our partnership with our food services provider Chartwells, they are actually on the back end putting everything together into the robot for it to go out for delivery.

How Students Are Reacting:

Oh my gosh, the social acceptance for this has been outstanding, and that's been really important to the success of the program.

They nickname them, they walk along beside them, they talk to them. It doesn't help that the robots actually say, "Hello,"  "Goodbye," "Happy holidays," so that's all kind of fun. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_zRwq9c8LY

Little Potential For Hacking Or Other Mischief:

We don't believe that that's going to happen because they are locked down. You can't get into it without it being your order with your phone in front of it.

It actually, if you try to pick the robot up, the alarm system will go off almost like you're trying to steal it.

And in some cases, I haven't seen this myself, but I've been told that it says, "Put me down, put me down, put me down." And they have GPS trackers on them as well.

How Technology Is Meeting The Needs Of Students:

We're all consumers, as are the college students that attend UT Dallas. And I think they, just like us, want what they want when they want it. Right?

So now with the robots, we can actually facilitate that. So if you want a coffee from Einstein's at 2:30 in the afternoon, but you're studying in your dorm room or you're studying across, you know, campus, I'm able to help you get that coffee now.