Aug 31, 2019

Food delivery robots target college towns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

College students may soon have to share their campus sidewalks with thousands of 6-wheeled robots ready to deliver their dinners.

Driving the news: Food delivery company Starship Technologies announced plans in late August to deploy cooler-sized, self-driving robots to 100 U.S. college campuses by 2022.

The big picture: Even though autonomous food delivery is still a developing concept, Starship is targeting college campuses, where students typically have little kitchen access beyond mini-fridges and microwaves. Demand for food delivery is high, and how the food is delivered is of less importance.

Starship plans to deploy 25–50 robots per school within the next 2 years, meaning as many as 5,000 robots could be moseying around campus grounds by 2021. They're already making deliveries at George Mason University and Northern Arizona University. And they're set to deploy at Purdue University in Indiana after Labor Day. Next up: the University of Pittsburgh.

Where it stands: Delivery sidewalk bots in metropolitan areas have encountered regulatory hurdles in the past. San Francisco temporarily banned them in 2017, only again issuing permits this year.

  • Starship’s college-town fleets can bypass typical regulatory roadblocks from city councils. With a university's permission, vehicle startups can run on campus sidewalks and streets. 
  • Testing the robots in a college environment gives companies data to navigate other, more dangerous settings like high-volume street crossings.

Our thought bubble via Axios' emerging technology reporter Kaveh Waddell, "Campuses are often pedestrian-oriented, which can make car deliveries difficult. But sidewalks can also become busy and chaotic, which can make life hard for a robot."

What they're doing: Several companies, including Amazon, have invested in and experimented with these small-wheeled robots in the streets.

  • San Francisco gave Postmates a permit in August to test its delivery robots, TechCrunch reports.
  • Berkeley-based company Kiwi launched its own miniature robot in 2018 for UC Berkeley students.
  • Amazon rolled out its sidewalk bot in January, by which Prime members could have food delivered. It is currently testing bots by simulation and on sidewalks in Seattle, according to TechCrunch.
  • Domino’s will test custom driverless carriers for pizza deliveries in Houston later this year.

Yes, but: Food service jobs are a staple in college towns. 43% of students in college full-time had a job in 2017. The number nearly doubled for part-time students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Growing fleets of sidewalk robots could disrupt a workforce dependent on relieving college tuition and living expenses.

The bottom line: As long as the market for food delivery continues to boom, the nascent autonomous food delivery business only has room to grow.

Watch: Click here for an amusing student reaction.

Editor's note: This piece was corrected to show deliveries have started at Northern Arizona University (not University of Northern Arizona).

Go deeper

Italy reports lowest number of new coronavirus cases since February

Italy’s aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori fly over Milan in Duomo Square on May 25. Photo: Francesco Prandoni/Getty Images

The Italian government reported 300 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Feb. 29.

Why it matters: Italy, the first country in Europe to implement a nationwide lockdown after emerging as a hotspot in March, appears to have finally weathered its coronavirus outbreak. Italy has reported nearly 33,000 total deaths, the third-highest total behind the U.S. and U.K.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,453,784 — Total deaths: 345,886 — Total recoveries — 2,191,310Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,651,254 — Total deaths: 97,850 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: Top Boris Johnson aide defends himself after allegations he broke U.K. lockdown — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.