“The delivery robots have traveled tens of thousands of miles, met millions of people and have been tested in over 100 cities around the world.” – Starship Technologies.
The first U.S. university implementation of campus dining delivery robots was in January of this year. And, like a lot of successful digital initiatives, another school has rolled out their own robot delivery service.
Northern Arizona University (NAU) is the second U.S. school to partner with Sodexo (one of the largest food service providers in the nation) and Starship Technologies to “introduce a fleet of more than 30 robots that deliver meals and snacks from on-campus restaurants anywhere on campus.”
When the president of a university is tweeting about it, you know it's important. Looking like something out of a science fiction movie, the Starship robots are rolling all over NAU's residential campus in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Casey Fisher, Director of Strategic Planning and Marketing for NAU Campus Dining, gave me the inside scoop about the NAU Starship robots:
What's the current state of the robot delivery program?
Due to high demand and the incredible popularity of the service, we anticipate having as many as 48 Starship robots delivering food on campus in the Fall 2019 semester. We are also growing the number of restaurants on campus offering delivery. We launched with six campus restaurants in March, and we plan to double that for the fall.
Why did NAU decide to partner with Starship and offer up such a unique service?
NAU is a highly residential campus with nearly 10,000 students living on our very pedestrian and bike-friendly campus.
The service works in conjunction with student meal plans. By making food and drink more accessible, Sodexo and Starship are aiming to make the hectic, on-the-go lives of college students, faculty and staff a little easier.
How popular has the service been at NAU?
The most popular items to order via robot are our wings from the Coupe and burritos from Cobrizo (both of these are brands we developed in-house at NAU). Pizzas from the Wedge come in a close third. The robots completed more than 12,000 food deliveries on campus in merely 7 weeks of operation between Spring Break and the end of the semester.
Does NAU lease the robots or is the deal between Sodexo and Starship? Does Sodexo offer the robot delivery option as an add-on to existing food service contracts?
Starship Technologies owns and operates the robots and there is no cost to the university for this program. Customers pay a $1.99 delivery fee each time they order from the Starship app. Additionally, it is integrated with our card system, allowing students to use their dining dollars (part of their meal plan) or Jacks Debit Express to access this service.
Was there any resistance to having little robots rolling around all over campus?
The response has been largely positive. In the first 10 days after launch, we had more than 3,000 orders. Students and staff quickly developed a strong affinity for the robots, attempting to help them, reaching out to pet them as they roll by, and sometimes even naming them. The robots are very well-mannered, and travel much like pedestrians, so they’ve become a part of the NAU campus. It’s not often that a robot rolls by a group of people that we don't hear several exclamations of “so cute!” or “I love them!”
Have you used the robots to deliver anything else to students?
For finals week we worked with our partners on campus in Health Promotion to create a “Rock Your Finals Stress Free Kit” - filled with healthy snacks, a sleep mask, teas and other items to relieve stress and encourage a healthier approach to gearing up for final exams. These were very popular, and in general, we saw a significant uptick in students’ use of this service during reading and finals week. Students shared with us that getting food delivered to them by a “cute little robot” in the middle of an intense study session was a game changer.
According to Sodexo, there are plans to expand the Starship robot delivery program to additional campus locations globally in the future.
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