Ohio State Rolls Out Autonomous Food Delivery Robots
Parked behind the Connecting Grounds coffee shop on Ohio State University's campus is an 88-pound, picnic-cooler-like robot on wheels. It's looks like a miniature rover that NASA might shoot off into space.
But Ohio State senior director of dining services Zia Ahmed pulls out his phone, and the top of the rover opens to a temperature-insulated storage space where food and drinks can be placed. After it closes, the rover starts driving itself to near-by residence hall Drackett Tower.
And it is what it's starting to sound like — an autonomous food delivery robot that will traverse campus on its own.
Because on Monday, in a partnership with GrubHub, Ohio State University will officially roll out 50 of these rovers for students to use on campus.
The rovers will be at select campus dining areas starting at Curl Market, Connecting Grounds, 12th Avenue and Mirror Lake, and can be delivered to all campus residence halls, Bricker Hall and Thompson Library. Additionally, some off-campus students living in an area bounded by Lane Avenue, High Street, 9th Avenue and Cannon Drive, can also potentially use the rovers.
Ahmed said COVID-19 was not the reason for the rollout of the rover program. In fact, it was something the university had wanted to do for a few years, even before the pandemic began.
But, he said with food deliveries increasing during the pandemic, the self-driving robots came at a right time.
"You cannot ignore the fact that it created additional motivation to make sure we have a more efficient delivery program in place," he said.
Ahmed said the rovers will reduce delivery times and costs for students. Delivery fees with the rovers will be set at a flat rate of $2.50.
"It typically takes about an hour to get food delivered. Our hope is that we can reduce the time to a half hour," Ahmed said. "Of course, seeing rovers roam around campus too is exciting for everybody."
But the rovers won't be the only way students can get food delivered, as Ahmed said they will be working in tandem with the already-existing, in-person delivery service for campus dining. In fact, students will be using the same GrubHub app they were previously using to order food on campus, and can even monitor the rover through their phones.
Ahmed added that while the rovers are currently used for food delivery, the university hopes to expand its uses in the future.
"There's so much to learn from the experience. So I think these rovers can do a lot more than just food delivery," he said. "It can do other package deliveries, it can deliver tools to our maintenance team, I could go on and on and on."
The university plans to expand the number of rovers from 50 to 100, though they do not have a timeline in place for when they expect to.