UND campus getting food delivery robots next semester

UND students and Memorial Union employees Carsten Rolling (left) and Maho Tsukamoto were lucky...
UND students and Memorial Union employees Carsten Rolling (left) and Maho Tsukamoto were lucky to meet one of the first Kiwibots on campus Saturday.(Janelle Vonasek/UND Today)
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 1:54 PM CST
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Students at the University of North Dakota will have a new, convenient option to curb their hunger come next semester. UND is rolling out a posse of food delivery robots.

Dining Services Director Orlynn Rosaasen says they’ve been looking at the idea of campus food delivery for years, and the demand is definitely there. “But until now, it just never penciled out. I couldn’t make it work,” Rosaasen said.

Earlier, the only option might have required UND to hire its own delivery drivers to use state fleet vehicles for the door-to-door service. It was a pricey concept and a logistics nightmare; and that’s why it didn’t happen 10 years ago. Nor did it happen more recently, Rosaasen said, after he first saw the roaming robots in action at a conference for members of the National Association of College & University Food Services.

“The hindrance at the time was the initial investment. It was a half-million dollars, and that was way too much for the University of North Dakota,” he said with a laugh. “Let’s see, ‘How many deliveries do I have to make to earn that money back?’ I could never justify that kind of expense.”

He thought the idea was genius, so he kept an eye on the industry. A number of other startup companies joined the robot game, and those initial costs dropped significantly. The university is now working with robotics company Kiwibot to bring 15 to 20 of the self-propelled units to campus.

The compact carts weigh about 40 pounds and navigate using GPS technology. They have four-wheel drive, and the rear set of wheels can be swapped out for larger “snow” tires.

The robots are equipped with multiple sensors and cameras that allow them to stop on a dime to avoid collisions. They will primarily run on sidewalks, but can also cross the street, topping out at about 4 miles per hour.

Kiwibot partners with the Grubhub food app and the software allows both services to run on the same platform. Users place an individual order on the app and then select the extra delivery option.

“The rovers will be parked outside — they don’t come inside the building — and the dining staff takes the food out, drops it in and closes the lid. And then the rover just takes off. They know where to go.”

The robotic rovers will be launched first out of the UND Memorial Union, delivering food prepped at the different restaurants there. Once they have the system down, he hopes to introduce them to the Wilkerson Dining Center.

Rosaasen says he believes the rovers will be the first to roam any campus in North Dakota. He knows of others in South Dakota and Wisconsin.