GREENSBORO – Don’t look now but in the near future a fleet of 20 autonomous robots will be making food deliveries across the NC A&T campus.

In a deal announced Monday with Starship Technologies – founded by two of Skype’s early executive team – A&T and its university food services provider Sodexo plan to make deliveries from three on-campus restaurants:

  • Qdoba
  • 1891 Bistro
  • Paavo’s Pizza

And more are expected to be added.

The robots already have a fan in Brandon Daye, president of the student food advisory board at A&T.  “Everyone on campus loves the robots and looks forward to using them,” he said in a statement. “They will really come in handy when the weather is bad or if you want to grab food or snacks in between classes.”

Orders can be placed via apps developed by Starship for Apple and Android devices. There are no fees, at least for the first two years, A&T said. The service works with current student meal plans, the university added.

The partners promise deliveries “within minutes.” And the bots aren’t weaklings. They can transport up to 20 pounds, according to Starship.

Starship, which launched in 2014, recently reported having reached the 2 million delivery mark with its various autonomous bots.

Here’s how the partners dedscribed the robots:

The “zero-emission robots use a combination of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch. The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel day and night and operate in both rain and snow. A team of humans can also monitor their progress remotely and can take control at a moment’s notice.”

As for how the service works, here’s a primer:

  • “[U]sers open the Starship Deliveries app, choose from a range of their favorite food or drink items, then drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent.
  • “They can then watch as the robot makes its journey to them, via an interactive map.
  • “Once the robot arrives, they receive an alert, and can then meet and unlock it through the app.”

“As a STEM university, A&T and Sodexo’s partnership with Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robots falls right in line with what we are about,” Angela Peterson, associate vice chancellor for Campus Enterprises at A&T, said in a statement. “We are incredibly excited to provide this service to our students to help minimize wait times and do it using a real-world application of technology similar to what some of our students are studying.”

Joseph Burdi, Sodexo district manager for North Carolina A&T Dining Services, added that the program “will provide added convenience for today’s busy students and meet their increased dining expectations.”

NC A&T follows in the footsteps of several other universities, such as George Mason University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Northern Arizona University.

“Because of the focus on STEM, we think the campus community will not only appreciate seeing this innovation firsthand, but they’ll also love the convenience that the service provides. We’re also looking forward hiring student workers who will get real-world experience in AI,” said Ryan Tuohy, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Sales at Starship.

Starship is based in San Francisco.