GRAND FORKS, ND (Valley News Live) – University of North Dakota students will have a new, convenient option to curb their hunger next semester. UND is launching a line of food delivery robots.
Dining Services Director Orlynn Rosaasen said they’ve been researching the idea of on-campus meal delivery for years, and there’s definitely a need. “But until now, it hadn’t been written in pencil. I couldn’t make it work,” Rosaasen said.
Earlier, the only option might have been to ask the UND to hire its own delivery drivers, using vehicles from the national fleet to provide door-to-door service. It was an expensive concept and a logistical nightmare; that’s why it didn’t happen 10 years ago. That hasn’t happened recently, either, Rosaasen said, because he first saw the rovers in action at a meeting of members of the National Association of College and University Foodservice.
“The hurdle at the time was the initial investment. It was $500,000, which was too much for UND,” he laughs. “Let’s see, ‘How many deliveries do I have to make to make this money back?’ I’ll never be able to justify that kind of fee.”
He thought the idea was genius, so he kept an eye on the industry. Many other startups have joined the robotics game, and those initial costs have dropped dramatically. The university is now working with robotics company Kiwibot to bring 15 to 20 self-propelled units to campus.
The compact cart weighs approximately 40 pounds and uses GPS technology for navigation. They have four-wheel drive, and the rear wheel sets can be swapped out for larger “snow” tires.
The robots are equipped with multiple sensors and cameras that allow them to stop and avoid collisions in an emergency. They mainly drive on sidewalks, but can also cross roads, at a top speed of about 4 mph.
Kiwibot works with the Grubhub food app, which allows both services to run on the same platform. Users place orders individually on the app, then select additional shipping options.
“The rovers would be parked outside—they wouldn’t be entering the building—and the catering crew would take the food out, put it in and cover it. Then the rovers would take off. They knew where to go.”
The robotic rover will first launch from the UND Memorial Union, delivering food prepared at various restaurants there. Once the system shuts down, he hopes to refer them to the Wilkerson Dining Center.
Rosaasen said he believes the rover will be the first to roam any North Dakota campus. He knew others in South Dakota and Wisconsin.
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