Dorm food: Delivery robots coming to 100 college campuses

As municipalities hesitate, robot delivery companies strike creative deals.

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The robot delivery wars are officially shifting into hyper-drive. Today, Starship Technologies, which makes a six-wheeled bot for autonomous delivery, is announcing $40 million in Series A funding. 

The raise brings Starship's total allocation to $85 million. 

That's a drop in the bucket compared to behemoth Amazon, which has dived headlong into its delivery robotics program. Amazon just rolled out a handful of robots on the streets of California, marking the company's second robot delivery testbed. 

But Starship has an important advantage over Bezos and crew: One heck of a head start. Founded in San Francisco in 2014, the company's funding announcement coincides with a major milestone as it celebrates its 100,000 commercial delivery. That's thought to be more than any other robotics delivery company.

Of course, any company hoping to put robots on public sidewalks has a lot of government affairs work to do. Municipalities are famously slow to catch up to technological development, and in the wake of aggressive tactics from companies like Bird and Uber, the leadership of which has made an art of asking for forgiveness, not permission, cities are understandably reticent to open the doors to paradigm-shifting technology.

Starship has been smart in finding creative solutions. The company introduced robot delivery to university campuses earlier this year in partnership with food service management company Sodexo, Inc, starting with George Mason University (Fairfax, VA), where it launched with what was then the world's largest robotic delivery fleet, and later to Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, AZ).

So far, according to internal numbers, Starship's robots have delivered over 6,000 pizzas, 7,000 gallons of milk, 8,000 coffees, 9,000 sushi rolls, 15,000 bananas, and over 3,700 diapers. Now Starship has indicated plans to expand its service to 100 university campuses in the next 24 months. Delivery robots arrived today at the University of Pittsburgh, and Purdue University, Indiana will soon join the list of Starship campuses on September 9.

"This new investment will see Starship expand onto more campuses as we head towards a goal of offering our service to over one million students," said Lex Bayer, CEO of Starship Technologies. "An entire generation of university students are growing up in a world where they expect to receive a delivery from a robot after a few taps on their smartphone. The reception to our service both on campuses and in neighborhoods has been phenomenal. Our customers appreciate how we make their lives easier and give them back the gift of time."

In addition to university campuses, Starship also delivers groceries and packages in urban neighborhoods. The company has also been lobbying aggressively for legislation to allow delivery robots on sidewalks, both in the U.S. and abroad.