Grubhub tests ‘Rovers’ delivery on Ohio State University campus


Jeffrey McKee made a particular observation on the way to work at Ohio State a few weeks ago. Rolling around campus was what appeared to be a cooler with wheels and a camera perched on its roof.

“One of those things was running right next to me,” said McKee, a professor in the Ohio State Department of Anthropology. “It was fun but also confusing, because I didn’t know what they were.”

The OSU instructor had several theories.

“Is the engineering department doing an experiment?” ” he said. “Is it a mapping device?” That was my main thought, because we have these Google cars mapping everything. “

Trying food delivery rovers on the OSU campus

The approximately two-foot-tall automated transporter turned out to be a food delivery robot performing one of many trials over the past few weeks. GrubHub and Ohio State’s Student Life Food Services officially unveiled the robots – which they call “rovers” – at a protest on August 19.

The delivery company wants to use the rovers – which can make deliveries on campus – to reach new customers who may have been put off by the long wait times. Automated carts can quickly deliver campus residences, which are not accessible by car and therefore difficult for delivery drivers to reach in a timely manner.

GruhHub hopes to launch the service on campuses across the country in the coming months. The company is also testing the rovers on other campuses, but won’t say which ones.

European vehicle developer Yandex designed and owns the robots, which work using GrubHub’s delivery app. The rovers will initially deliver from an on-campus cafe and food market to every residence on campus, as well as to the main library for $ 2.50 per delivery.

GrubHub will use 50 bots initially, and add 50 more in the coming months.

Ohio State sophomore Abby Silone showed a group of reporters how to use automated carriers during the August 19 protest. She stood in the shadow of Davis Tower Thursday morning in front of a row of rovers adorned with the Grubhub logo and typed an order into her phone.

The demo was temporarily halted due to a slight glitch – causing Silone to change its app’s settings – but after the quick adjustment, one of the bots traveled to nearby Drackett Tower to deliver the juice. orange ordered by Silone.

Senior Food Services Manager Zia Ahmed helps second-year student Abby Silone studying computer science and information technology at Ohio State University place an order using delivery rovers of food on campus.

Chicago-based Grubhub, which uses drivers in most cases, wants to expand into neighborhoods and communities with few roads.

College campuses “pose some unique challenges for delivery companies,” said Sean Ir, chief strategy officer for Grubhub, who attended the protest. “Most college campuses are not designed to be driven by car, which means drivers have to park off campus and then complete the delivery on foot. And some schools also have restrictions on visitors. “

The company sees rovers as a workaround. Ir said robots can go anywhere a pedestrian can easily walk.

The state of Ohio, with its ubiquitous sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly roads, seemed like the perfect place to launch the technology, he said.

“We will be rolling out to other college campuses this year,” Ir said, though he declined to say which ones.

“We’re always looking for innovative ways to deliver food or serve our students,” said Zia Ahmed, senior director of student life catering services at Ohio State. “We know that the foodservice delivery market is growing tremendously, and it is potentially a very efficient way to deliver food to students. “

And the new delivery service can be tailored to the needs of the campus, he said.

Fifty to 100 delivery robots appear to be a small number for a college with more than 50,000 students, but Ahmed said food services can add more if needed.

“The good news is that we can always evolve,” he said. “Our goal is to start with 50, and see how well it works, and then slowly start to grow to 100.”

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