OXFORD • University of Mississippi students returning to campus for the spring semester will now share the sidewalks with a fleet of autonomous food delivery robots.

A partnership between Starship Technologies and Ole Miss Dining Services brought the service to the university, making Ole Miss the first in the Southeastern Conference to have autonomous delivery robots.

“Ole Miss Dining is focused on the continued utilization of advanced technology to enrich the student, faculty and staff dining experience,” resident district manager of Ole Miss Dining Services Chip Burr said. “We are excited about the expansion of our mobile ordering operation and the new opportunities this partnership creates.”

Users can have food and drinks delivered anywhere on campus in a matter of minutes by any of the 30 robots currently in service. The Starship Deliveries app is available to download from Apple’s App Store or Google Play store.

Customers can choose from the campus’ wide selection of dining options including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McAlister’s, Panda Express, Steak ‘n Shake and Papa John’s. Payment options include Venmo, a debit/credit card or Flex Dollars via an Ole Miss student account. There is a delivery fee of $1.99 for each order.

After selecting their location on campus by dropping a pin on a map to indicate where they want their food delivered, users will be able to watch the robot’s trip in real time via an interactive map. When the robot arrives, the person receives an alert to meet the robot and unlock it using the app.

Delivery typically takes just minutes, depending on the items ordered and distance the robot • {/strong}which can carry up to 20 pounds – has to travel, according to a press release.

Just after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, which was the first day of operation for the delivery service, the Starship app showed estimated live wait times of 15 to 40 minutes for several on-campus restaurants.

Some restaurants, which were open at the time, displayed messages saying “Closed for orders. We are experiencing high demand,” or “Nearby delivery only. Sorry, it’s a busy time for us, we can only deliver to nearby customers.”

Starship Technologies was founded in July 2014. Since then its robots have traveled more than 350,000 miles and completed more than 100,000 autonomous deliveries.

A Starship spokesperson was unable to provide specific details on the financial aspects of the deal with Ole Miss because it’s “a private commercial agreement between Starship and the university’s food service contractor,” but they did share that no tuition or student fees were used to pay for the service.

The partnership with Starship will benefit the university by helping on-campus retailers compete with off-campus establishments, according to a spokesperson.

“Giving on-campus retailers the ability to offer delivery service where it didn’t exist before is a benefit to the retailers, their customers and the additional workers hired to meet the increased demand,” the Starship spokesperson said.

The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night and operate in rain and snow using a combination of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors to navigate. Starship mapped the campus and conducted testing exercises before officially launching the service.

A team of humans can monitor the robots’ progress remotely and have the ability to take control if needed.

“We’re honored to be able to help make lives a little bit easier for Rebels across the Ole Miss campus by offering the world’s leading autonomous delivery service,” Starship Technologies senior vice president of business development Ryan Tuohy said in a statement. “Whether it’s getting breakfast delivered in the morning or having a late-night snack, our robots are here to serve students, faculty and staff at all times of the day.”

blake.alsup@journalinc.com

Twitter: @AlsupTheWriter

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