Heading to the college dining hall to get some grub is so last semester — at least for some students at George Mason University.
The college in Fairfax, Virginia, became the first school to launch food and beverage delivery via a fleet of autonomous robots earlier this year through a partnership with Sodexo and Starship Technologies.
The service, which uses small battery-powered robotic containers to deliver meals from local businesses to university buildings and dorms, launched in January. Since then, more than 10,000 orders have been placed.
It has been so well received that Sodexo has expanded the program at GMU and last week began service at Northern Arizona University, with hopes of expanding to more universities.
Students and visitors to the GMU campus can place orders on the Starship Deliveries App using credit cards or Mason Money, linked to prepaid declining balance accounts. The app sends the orders to vendors. Users can choose a destination or pick-up location on campus for the delivery, with projected delivery times displayed. The robots are locked, and customers use the app to unlock the bots once they are at their door.
The delivery fee is low, $1.99 per order. Delivery hours have been extended to 2 a.m., with plans for a 24-hour service in the near future. Breakfast has also been a big hit, with 1,500 orders so far.
At first, students say, ordering a robot to deliver coffee was a novelty, but now it’s become a part of life on campus. This is evident in how busy the bots are at peak hours and how they seem to migrate the grounds around, and even as a part of, the packs of students making their way to and from class. It’s not uncommon to see campus visitors snap a photo while others completely ignore the small rectangular bots on wheels passing them by, full of coffees, pizzas, fries and more. The bots even politely say, “Hello, I’m a Starship Delivery Robot.”