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Make way for thousands more delivery robots

Companies are trying out a plethora of ways to deliver food, groceries and more. There are still a number of obstacles facing them in the race to be the best.

Some companies are going full-on high tech. Uber Eats is testing drones to deliver meals in urban areas. Amazon and Google are in a battle to one day have their fleets of drones covering the sky. Some companies are countering drones by introducing delivery robots.

One business is ready to send out thousands of delivery robots. We’ll tell you how these robots operate and who gets to see them in action first.

Delivery robots for dorm life

Picture delivery robots roaming college campuses among the bikes, skateboards and scooters. This scenario will be a reality at four universities very soon.

Starship Technologies, a manufacturer of delivery robots, plans to have thousands of its bots working on four college campuses over the next two years. That’s great news for students.

After raising $40 million, Starship Technologies is moving out of the testing phase and putting its little robots to work. The autonomous six-wheeled delivery robots that are about the size of a large cooler are getting their first real jobs at four universities around the country.

Working closely with university administrators, the robots started rolling around George Mason University in Virginia and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Next month, robots will appear at the University of Pittsburgh and Purdue University in Indiana.

If the company’s plans pan out, it will send 25-50 robots to each campus over the next two years. By 2021, there could be a combined 5,000-strong fleet of robots roaming the campuses.

Starship Technologies has been testing the little robots since at least 2016. Before they became commercially available, the robots had been tested in more than 100 cities in 20 different countries.

During the testing phase, the delivery robots traveled 350,000 miles and crossed 4 million streets. Starship Technologies recently made its 100,000th delivery.

The company makes its money by charging customers a $2 delivery fee.


Related: Facebook’s classified robotics division is going after Google and Apple


Starship robots face competitors

While drone deliveries make a bigger splash with the public, on the ground robots already are among us. Starship Technologies may have the lead, but other companies are eagerly planning their moves.

Udelv’s autonomous full-sized vans have made a few deliveries in San Francisco and Oklahoma City. In January, the company announced it was partnering with Walmart on a pilot program.

In March, the self-driving startup Nuro moved into Houston to deliver for two grocery chains. The company also delivers in Scottsdale, AZ. Nuro’s vehicles resemble smart cars.

And finally, no surprise, Amazon is developing its own robot-delivery service called Scout. This month the robots, which look very much like Starship’s little guys, began operating in Irvine, CA.

Scout is about the same size as Starship, is autonomous and drives on six wheels. Starships can each carry 20 pounds of cargo and the outside of the vehicles have several cameras that help identify obstacles and guide the robots to their destination.

Starships’ have a delivery radius of three to four miles and have a maximum speed of four miles per hour. And they apparently are very friendly.


Related: Put down the toilet brush and let a robot scrub those bowls for you


Robots charm college students

At Northern Arizona University (NAU), the Starships have already endeared themselves to the students. A story broadcast on the school’s public television station, KNAU, followed one robot as it delivered breakfast to a student.

When the student opened his door he said to the robot, “What’s up little buddy? How’s it going?” To his surprise, Starship responded with, “Hello, here’s your delivery.”

As the Starship encountered a group of students blocking its way, the robot said, “Excuse me, would you please let me pass?” As the students laughed and moved out of its way the Starship said, “Thank you, have a nice day.”

So you get food and a lesson in etiquette at the same time. It may be just what we need right now.

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