Return of the robots: Campus food deliveries resume after Sodexo, Starship reach deal

Colbey Denson, Reporter

The food delivery robots that proved so popular last year are back on campus after Sodexo struck a deal with Starship, the company that provides them.

The food delivery robots made their first appearance last fall and brought a new element to campus. Besides hauling food to hungry students, they added a form of entertainment as students watched them make their way around.

“The robots were first brought to campus to manage traffic and reduce waiting (at the various dining locations around campus),” said Doug Wermedal, vice president of Student Affairs. “We’re always looking to manage traffic.” 

The food delivery robots returned Monday, but the options available are limited to start. They will begin with only Erbert & Gerbert’s, and officials hope to add additional food options as the year goes on. The plan is to guarantee that each option is solid and works well before adding a new restaurant in an effort to lower potential difficulties, Wermedal said. 

Eli Salisbury, a sophomore engineering student from Marshall, Minnesota, said he’s happy to hear that the robots are back. 

“I will gladly use the robots over waiting in line,” he said.

Brody Brink, a sophomore architecture student from Sturgis, said he’s excited he doesn’t have to worry about cold walks for food as the calendar turns toward winter.

“If those robots can save me from freezing, they’re worth it,” Brink said.

The Starship app allows the use of flex dollars from the meal plans, but it does require a credit card for the delivery fee. The average delivery fee was $2 to $3 last year, Wermedal said. Delivery times last year were as quick as seven minutes but averaged 15 to 20 minutes.

Wermedal said he thinks the delivery time will be faster this year because the delivery range was reduced to include just the internal main campus. The machines will no longer deliver more than a block off campus.

The fleet is maintained at a central location by Starship but is serviced by a group of 12 students. They are involved with repairs of the robots as well as uploading new data and updates, Wermedal said.

The delivery robots can operate all day on a single charge and are brought in to charge only at night by the students, Wermedal said. 

It was common for students and staff to find the robots stuck in almost comedic situations last year. But according to Wermedal, that isn’t going to be an issue.

“People like them, they like helping them,” he said. “I’ve seen many people pull them back on track. We have never had one fully stuck.” 

All you need to use these high-tech robots is the Starship app. Once you open the app it asks for a “delivery point” and as soon as you find yours, you’re ready to order.