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Ordering the future: The University of Arizona deploys food delivering rovers

Food delivery robots at the University of Arizona
Posted at 6:22 AM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 08:22:50-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — If you're taking a walk on the University of Arizona campus and you might see small, white six-wheeled robots that look like mini ice chests. They are the new food delivery rovers that deliver food from select Student Union restaurants to anyone on campus if they order on the Grubhub app.

The rovers, created by the company Yandex Self-Driving Group, launched last week and now students are able to order IQ Fresh, Einstein Bagels, On Deck Deli and Sabor.

Anyone on campus are able to download the Grubhub app and choose delivery. Once you choose your food, you choose a popular location on campus like a dorm building, McKale Memorial Center, Robert L. Nugent Building, Old Main and many more.

"When these rovers came about Grubhub said we are partnering with Yandex and we want to bring this to the U of A," Mari John, interim Associate Director of Marketing, Business Affairs Auxiliary Services, said. "We are always looking for new ways to innovative ways to serve our students"

When an order comes through the app, the staff will place the food inside the insulated rover and send it to the person's delivery location. When it arrives, customers open the lid via Grubhub and then press the button underneath the lid to close it. There are codes involved in the delivery and ordering, which ensures that the food goes to the right person.

"When the rovers are driving around, they'll sense the person and stop and wait for them to pass," John said.

Each robot weighs about 100 pounds and have hundreds of sensors, cameras and radar to help them navigate, Toby Snuggs, the head of sales at Yandex, said.

"The lidar is a type of sensor that actually builds a 3D view of the world around the rover, which is exactly what we do in self driving cars," Snuggs said. "And the rover will say 'oh that looks like a truck'."

Geofencing helps ensure that the rover stays confined to the UA campus. The rover's internal maps are constantly updated, which helps them recognize their surroundings. Snuggs said the demand for this technology was great, especially during the pandemic.

"There's a huge increase in demand and in addition we find there isn't enough human couriers to meet the demand," Snuggs said "And this is our third release of the rovers so we are constantly evolving.

Yandex expects to update their rovers and release more across other campuses in the United States, Snuggs said.

But on the UA campus, John says so far the students are enjoying the rovers.

"The response has been positive so far," she said. "And people are curious so it’s a treat to find one of the rovers on campus which is why we see students taking selfies with them and pictures with them and kind of pet them as they go on their way. It’s really cool to see.”