A Starship bot waits to cross a street near the Co-Rec. It took eight minutes for the coast to clear.
For two months now, the Starship delivery bots have been roaming campus delivering snacks, drinks and meals straight to buildings and outdoor locations.
The robots’ abilities are extensive: They can cross streets intelligently, avoid bumping into pedestrians and allegedly trek through snowy conditions. But how exactly do these robots work?
Henry Harris-Burland, the vice president of marketing at Starship Technologies explained the technology behind the Starship robots in an email.
“The robots use computer vision, sensor fusion and machine learning to understand the world around them and travel autonomously on sidewalks,” Harris-Burland said.
The robots have a “bubble of awareness” that allows them to navigate around campus.
“The robots have 10 cameras, tracking to the nearest inch, sirens if tampered with and the lid is locked at all times,” Harris-Burland said.
While the robots’ technology is advanced, they sometimes get stuck at busy intersections or crowded streets. When this happens, Starship’s human operators will take over.
“We have human operators in offices across the U.S., including in Washington D.C., Arizona and Virginia. Each human operator monitors many robots, ... (and they) can take control if a robot has been waiting for a certain period of time,” Harris-Burland said.
Starbucks is one of nine locations at Purdue that works with Starship to deliver food to customers across campus. Amy Rappa, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, is a barista at the Starbucks on Third Street and works with the Starship robots.
“Every day we come in, we have a different position we’re assigned to. ... We just added the robot position,” Rappa said.
The “robot runners” are notified of Starship orders through the app on company iPads and phones. Once the employee finishes making the order, they’ll simply place it inside the Starship robot, tap a button on the app to indicate the order is complete and send the robot on its way.
While Rappa said the process of completing Starship orders is “quick and easy,” transitioning to accommodate a multitude of them was more difficult, she said.
“At first it was pretty difficult because I think a lot of people were using it because of the novelty of having them,” Rappa said.
She estimated that during a four-hour shift at the beginning of the school year she would make at least 20 Starship orders. Now, she says the number has decreased to around 10 per shift.
“Right now they’re trying to find a way to include Dining Dollars and Boiler Express to the Starship stuff. ... I think if that were to happen, (the popularity) would probably rise again,” Rappa said.
“We are one of the first Starbucks to start using these (robots), which is really exciting,” Rappa said. “And then as a student, it’s just fun seeing them on campus.”
Starship Technologies isn’t just staying on Purdue’s campus, either.
“We plan to launch on 100 college campuses in the next 24 months, and continue to provide a great delivery experience for students, staff and faculty,” Harris-Burland said.
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