Universities use robots to tackle labor shortages and explore new businesses
The relatively controlled University campus environments have long served as ideal testing grounds for autonomous technology, and they have proven to be particularly effective for sidewalk delivery robots.
In the latest step to introduce autonomous delivery to college campuses, early last week food delivery platform Grubhub and sidewalk delivery robot startup Cartken shared plans to bring 50 food delivery robots to Ohio State University this fall. An extension of their spring semester pilot of 15 bots, the plan is to have about 100 Cartken robots around OSU by the end of the school year.
A closed, geofenced environment allows companies to test higher levels of autonomy as there are fewer edge cases and difficult scenarios, such as busy intersections. And campuses usually have neatly paved sidewalks, which are perfect for the small wheels of delivery robots.
As more universities in the United States slowly become home to such robots, they are discovering that the bots are not just a fun new feature to appease hungry students or promote their willingness to welcome innovation. Universities now rely on bots to both address labor shortages and explore new business opportunities, such as delivery-only kitchens, popularly referred to as “haunted kitchens.”
“If you think about it, almost every kitchen in the world today is a haunted kitchen, because every restaurant now delivers.” Zia Ahmed, senior director, dining establishments, OSU
“Universities are starting to see the possibility of combining the concept of running multiple restaurants from a production facility with robotics. It allows them to choose a central point on campus that is operationally or logistically beneficial, and then build a slew of virtual restaurants that can only be delivered by robots,” said Benjamin Anderson, director of campus business development at Grubhub, to Marketingwithanoy.
The location of the country
Universities are no stranger to autonomous delivery robots, but startups are now steadily expanding their presence on campus sidewalks.
Grubhub is only expanding its previous work with its new plans — the company previously partnered with OSU and Arizona State University to deploy Russian Internet company Yandex’s autonomous rovers. They were popular with students, those involved said, but Grubhub, like many Western companies fearful of the stench of war, withdrew from that partnership when Russia invaded Ukraine.
However, this is Cartken’s first attempt at university delivery. Earlier this year, the startup partnered with Mitsubishi to bring delivery to select malls in Japan and is also partnering with REEF Technology to deliver from haunted kitchens in downtown Miami.
Greater rival Starship Technologies, arguably the leader in space, has been deploying robots on campuses for years. The startup, which last raised $42 million in December, operates in 30 colleges across the US and will announce more partnerships in the coming months, the company said.