Students at Northern Arizona University have started to become accustomed to the small, white robots rolling across campus since Starship Technologies unveiled them March 25.
The food delivery robots have provided students with convenience, curiosity and plenty of Snapchat videos since they rolled into action three weeks ago.
“One of the challenges we are facing is NAU is a very long campus, it’s a mile and a quarter long, and the robots travel at four miles per hour,” Ben Hartley, NAU resident district manager of campus dining, said. “We were anticipating a 15-to-20 minute delivery window. Now we are looking at 30 minutes, 45 minutes, sometimes an hour depending on how busy it is.”
Hartley said since April 1, dining dollars have been incorporated into the delivery system allowing students to purchase food using their meal plan.
“There is an integration required by the university so that outside vendors can’t compromise the student accounts. It took two weeks to get that figured out,” Hartley said.
Junior NAU exchange student Klára Kucharová has used the Starship service twice and overall has been pleased with the new delivery service. Kucharová said it seems like the robots are overtaking the campus, but are exciting to watch.
“I still prefer to eat out, but sometimes when I’m busy or it’s convenient I'll place an order,” Kucharová said. “I feel like it takes a really long time to cross the street, but it’s still delivering the food right to your door, so it’s ok.”
Kucharová was thrilled to learn the acceptance of dining dollars as a method of payment. She said as an exchange student, being able to use dining dollars might motivate her to use the service more often since she needs to use them before the end of the semester.
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“I like that they came out with dining dollars now because I just have way too many,” Kucharová said. “When I needed food delivered to me, I didn’t want to spend extra money if I had dining dollars, so I would go somewhere I could spend them.”
Overall, Kucharová has enjoyed the Starship service, but said its traveling time could be improved as Hartley acknowledged.
Freshman NAU student Kathryn Honeycutt was also pleased with her two experiences using the delivery service. She said she likes the variety of options available to order from.
“I think for a delivery service, there is a pretty wide variety similar to GoPuff to where you can order something really small,” Honeycutt said. “It’s fun to have a robot deliver your food to you and it's cool that it talks to you. It’s also entertaining to watch them glitch across campus.”
Honeycutt said users can track the robot on the device they place the order from. The second time she ordered from Starship, she noticed the robot got stuck and stopped frequently on its way to the delivery location.
Kucharová and Honeycutt said they enjoyed the service and haven’t noticed much wrong with the robots aside from the delivery times being longer than estimated. Kucharová said she is optimistic the delivery service will continuously improve.
NAU's 32 operating robots tops that of George Mason University, the first campus to use the service. A total of 25 robots roam George Mason's campus in Fairfax, Virginia, where Starship first started deliveries in January.