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USC launches autonomous Grubhub food delivery robots

<p>A Grubhub robot crosses through the Russell House patio on Feb. 6, 2024. The robot delivered a Panera order to Close-Hipp.</p>
A Grubhub robot crosses through the Russell House patio on Feb. 6, 2024. The robot delivered a Panera order to Close-Hipp.

Autonomous food delivery robots launched at the University of Թϱ in early February, serving students in the main campus area from 11 different on-campus dining locations.

The university first announced the full launch in a on Feb. 1. The robots can deliver to multiple locations on campus between Assembly, Blossom and Gervais Streets, according to the press release.

The press release stated that the new delivery service is the result of a partnership between USC, Grubhub and Starship Technologies, the manufacturer of the robots. This is the first introduction of Starship’s technology in the state. 

We’re the first in Թϱ to do this,” university President Michael Amiridis said. “(We're) very proud of that.”&Բ;

The university is already planning to expand the area of service as well as increase the size of its fleet of robots up to 60 units to reflect student demand, said Joe Fortune, the director of revenue contract management and support at USC. 

Even with the soft launch," Fortune said. "We’re averaging about 80 to 90 deliveries per day right now. And so after today, we expect that number to increase as people learn more about how to make that order on their phone and through the app.”&Բ;

Fortune said the discussions between the university and Starship Technologies that led to this project began last April after the university began gauging student needs and desires as part of a strategic planning process. 

Student feedback showed demand for an easier and more accessible way to acquire campus dining options, Faren Alston, the marketing manager of Carolina Food Co, said. 

Alston said that the addition of the delivery robots on campus centers around enhancing student experience.

It’s a huge campus, and sometimes (students) feel like they don't have full accessibility to food on campus,” Alston said. “From an accessibility standpoint, a convenience standpoint, we hope that these robots will fulfill what our students are looking for.

Both Starship Technologies and Carolina Food Co. are hiring students to help run the delivery service, with Starship Technologies recruiting students with backgrounds and interests in technology, Alston said. These student employees will work on putting the robots in and out of service each day and performing necessary maintenance on them, such as replacing components prone to wear and tear and ensuring that the robots are fully charged, she said.

(We are) in the process of hiring a team of students to actually kind of let them out in the morning,” Alston said. “They would go over to the science and tech building, roll them out. You scan a QR code to put them in service, and then from that point, they’re free to just go to their dedicated locations.”&Բ;

The robots travel using machine learning technology, artificial intelligence and sensors that enable them to map out the surrounding area to the nearest inch, according to the press release. They are able to cross the street, climb curbs and travel during the night — rain or snow. 

But human operators are able to assume control of the robots if they need to be moved outside of their programmed routes or if their self-driving system is interrupted by obstacles.

The press release also states that the robots have separate, insulated compartments to maintain the temperature of food and drink during transport. 

Customers can use the Grubhub app to select from a list of restaurants within the main campus area to order from, according to Carolina Food Co. Payment methods include CarolinaCash, meal plan dollars and debit or credit cards, but meal plan swipes are not an option. Robot delivery carries a fee of $3.49.

Users can then track the robot as it travels to its destination. Upon arrival, they will receive an alert and be able to unlock the robot with the app. 

Fortune said he anticipates that the robots will be a valuable addition to campus and continue to enhance student experience in the future.

"Obviously, this spring is a limited launch, but we hope to expand the fleet in the future and expect nothing but good things," Fortune said.


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