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The rise of the campus robots

The robots are coming, and Paul Greatrix for one is welcoming our new HE overlords
This article is more than 4 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

Back in 2019 we noted the arrival on campuses of some pretty exciting vending machine offers from a ‘Pizza ATM’ to a bacon vending machine. The most exciting of these innovations though was the ’snackbot’ – these are mini rolling robots which deliver food and drink around campus to those who have placed orders via an app.

The snackbots are coming

One of the more recent universities to experiment with the robots is the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Students can order from one of three food halls through Starship’s app. Send the company the cost of the meal plus a $1.99 delivery fee and they’ll dispatch a six-wheeled bot to bring it to you. Users can track their meal on their phone and, once their meal arrives, unlock the robot from the app.

Go badgers.

A more recent update on the bot phenomenon was provided by Eric Stoller who talked to the Director of Strategic Planning and Marketing for Campus Dining at Northern Arizona University and, among other things, discovered:

The most popular items to order via robot are our wings from the Coupe and burritos from Cobrizo (both of these are brands we developed in-house at NAU). Pizzas from the Wedge come in a close third. The robots completed more than 12,000 food deliveries on campus in merely 7 weeks of operation between Spring Break and the end of the semester.

Which will be the first UK university to test the snackbots?

Robot joy for all in the library

But the next level in campus life robot innovation is this new service offered by North Caroline State University Library. It’s a robot cat:

Robotic therapy animals respond to petting, hugging and motion like live animals. Cats and dogs are both available.
Please note that this device may not be renewed in person or online. After returning the device, you must wait 24 hours before checking out the same or similar device to ensure equitable access to the Libraries’ limited supply of these popular items.

Students can check out the animals for up to three days at a time. It’s a great innovation from a university library, which as we know, tend to have a thing about cats.

These robots are also available via Amazon and according to the blurb they offer:

CAT-LIKE MOVEMENTS & SOUNDS: Our revolutionary VibraPurr technology gives the cat an authentic purr that sounds and feels just like real purring. A real cat would, our companion pet cat is able to open and close its eyes, lift its paw, open its mouth and move its head and body. The companion pet cat also has synthetic, soft, brushable fur inspired by real feline breeds.

The joy for all cat is aimed, as with the robot dog counterpart, very much at the retirement market, for the older user who doesn’t want all the mess and hassle of a real pet. You can see the appeal for students.

Order yourself a pizza and a drink for robot delivery and settle down for a night in front of the TV with your companion cat. Joy for all indeed.

Footnote: for those of you interested in the exciting recently launched podcast featuring two University Registrars Talking About Stuff you can now find all four episodes released to date here (and elsewhere including iTunes and others probably but haven’t quite got the full list to hand).

One response to “The rise of the campus robots

  1. Delivery robots are already in use in Milton Keynes for groceries, so perhaps the new MK:U will offer snackbots when it opens in a couple of years?

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