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Robot food delivery service rolls out at University of Tennessee

Starship Technologies launched a fleet of 40 robots that deliver food across the UT campus.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As throngs students march through Pedestrian Walkway on their way to classes, they may be accompanied by a fleet of robots.

On Tuesday, the University of Tennessee announced the launch of a fleet of robots to deliver food from several campus restaurants and eateries. The robots were developed by Starship Technologies and will work in conjunction with Vol Dining.

Students will be able to use dining dollars, flex dollars and money associated with their VolCard to deliver meals, as well as debit and credit cards. They can also use their student meal plan to have food delivered.

Students who want to have food delivered need to download the Starship Deliveries app, pick the food they want and drop a pin on a map where they want the delivery to be sent. They can then watch on a virtual map as the delivery makes it way to them.

The company launched 40 autonomous robots that will pick up food from 16 eateries across campus. Those restaurants include Einstein Bros. Bagels, Steak 'n Shake, Starbucks and Subway. They can carry up to 20 pounds — equivalent to around three shopping bags of food, according to officials.

The robots use a combination of machine learning technology and high-powered sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. They map their environments over time, helping them cross streets and climb curbs. They can also travel at night, operating in both rain and snow.

A team of humans can also monitor their progress remotely and take control if the need arises.

The company has launched similar robot fleets at colleges including Arizona State University, George Mason University, the University of Kentucky and Purdue University.

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