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The Internet of Things: Pizza-Carrying Robots Invade University - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Pizza-Carrying Robots Invade University

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Pizza-Carrying Robots Invade University

“Hello! Here’s your delivery,” a robot says as it greets hungry students and researchers at George Mason University in Virginia. As it turns around to head back to the pizza parlor, it adds, “Thank you! Have a nice day!” to its customers’ delight, who call after it, “I will! Thank you! Bye!”

Drone delivery became a reality last week at GMU. Members of the GMU community can now order food from selected campus establishments for delivery anywhere on university grounds. The robots, which look like large LED projectors or small canister vacuum cleaners on six moon-rover-style wheels, travel at about 4 miles per hour, stop to “look” both ways for crossing traffic, and deliver pizzas, salads, sandwiches, coffee, and other campus staples within 15 minutes.

According to a report by the Washington Post, the robots do not enter buildings, so recipients must step outside their buildings to retrieve their orders. A dedicated mobile app enables them to open the hatch, preventing theft by ill-intentioned schoolmates. Diners pay through the app, using their credit cards or campus dining cards, adding a $1.99 delivery fee, which goes to Starship, the Washington-based tech company running the service.

Although the robots are mostly autonomous, they are monitored remotely by a team of customer service representatives who can take control of the robots if necessary.

The service has proven so popular in just its first week that Starship has added five additional robots, bringing the campus total to 30, and the George Mason News website promises expanded services to more establishments as the robots and community find their groove.

The initial response appears to be overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by tweets. One student tweeted, “Watching people watch and interact with these robots is the highlight of my semester @StarshipGMU.” Another, two days into the service, tweeted, “Need more bots, been overbooked all day XD. I <3 the bots.”

Anyone who’s spent considerable time on a university campus might see value here beyond munchies convenience. If a robot can deliver four 10-inch pizzas and a can of blood orange San Pellegrino, why not supplies from the bookstore, or parking passes, or library books, or receipts for fee payments?

Starship’s combination of self-directed robots and human supervisors seems like an excellent first step into a world where vehicles and conduits of many sizes will do our bidding. Although college pizza is serious business of subjectively high stakes, it’s a reasonable testing ground for other truly serious tasks. Sure, a late order can be a major inconvenience to its purchaser, but compared to what’s at risk with other kinds of autonomous transport, this learn-as-we-go model is an extremely reasonable, real-world first step.

Reference links:
George Mason University News: https://www2.gmu.edu/news/574036
Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/01/25/how-one-university-changed-overnight-when-it-let-semi-autonomous-robots-roam-its-campus
Video of a robot delivering four pizzas to the department of Geography and GeoInformation Science at GMU: https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipOUUEbXd9j3I6dCAgdlY0Ko871fXRiAFO3yCdrnZaOA0oYxcFeV-jk-RmqKI_DT-w/photo/AF1QipOQLTHwNh2ARE2T9fYq6wYFV2Fk8uchT94Mzkq8?key=bEdtLVgyZ1V0dnkyM2JSbGNuRE5sRFRhemhaemdB
GMU’s Starship deliveries Twitter stream: https://twitter.com/StarshipGMU
Starship Deliveries: https://starshipdeliveries.com

 

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