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Grubhub and UA campus dining services introduce new delivery robots on campus

A Yandex food delivery robot sitting in front of Old Main. Photo courtesy of Yulia Shveyko.

Grubhub is taking on a new business delivery model with the addition of self-driving delivery robots from the company Yandex.

Since Wednesday, Nov. 17, University of Arizona students were able to order food through the Grubhub mobile app and have one of these new robots deliver their food to them.

“When you make an order via the Grubhub campus app, you do pretty much the same thing you would usually do when ordering,” said Yandex Head of Public Relations Yulia Shveyko. “But if the order will be delivered by robot, you will receive a notification about that. You can also track the movement of the robot on a map in the application as it approaches its destination. When it arrives, you also will get a notification that your order has arrived and the robot is waiting outside of the building.”

This technology is new to the UA campus, but this is not the first university that has adopted this it for their students.

According to Shveyko, Yandex previously launched the self-driving delivery robots at Ohio State University this August at the beginning of their semester. The robots there deliver over 100 orders daily and over 1,000 every week, she said. 

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One hindrance that the Yandex team did not anticipate when launching the new robot service is student curiosity. 

“We can see huge interest from students. The most frequent thing we’re facing on campuses is that students want to take pictures with them. They also like to challenge the robot to see what happens if they stand in front of it. So student curiosity is really amazing, and I think they’re excited about these robots,” Shveyko said

This phenomenon of wanting to stand in front of the robots is a concern that makers of the robot addressed during production. The robot is designed in such a way that it is unable to hit nearby pedestrians. 

According to Shveyko, there are four kinds of sensors the robot has that helps it move around campus without issues, which are Lidar, cameras, radars and prediction. These four kinds of sensors each have their own role and purpose for keeping the robot going. Lidar is one of the sensors that really helps the robot get around campus.

“The localization module basically means that the robot needs to understand exactly where it is on the road. There is a sensor on top of the robot that looks like a can; it’s lidar,” Shveyko said. “It’s a laser sensor, and it sends out multiple laser beams around itself and measures the distance to the object around it and gets a 3D picture of its surroundings, which means it can understand the geometry of the objects around it.”

While lidar is an integral part of the robots operation, so is perception.

“Once the robot understands where it is in the world and on the street, it needs to understand what is around it,” said Shveyko. “This step is called perception. On the perception step, the robot detects cars, pedestrians, and it detects their speeds, accelerations and directions of the movement, everything. So everything it might find out with it’s sensors is the robot’s perception.”

These robots have the same kind of technology as self-driving vehicles on the road. Peter Szelei, business development executive for Yandex, has compared Yandex to other companies such as Waymo or Argo AI. 

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According to Szelei, the robots are level four autonomous. This means that “level 4 vehicles can intervene if things go wrong or there is a system failure. In this sense, these cars do not require human interaction in most circumstances. However, a human still has the option to manually override.”

These robots are slightly different from self-driving cars though. Shveyko described the technology used for self-driving cars as the “big brother” to the technology used for the robots. In 2017, Yandex began to create the technology to make self-driving cars, but then in 2019 they decided to shift to making these delivery robots, according to Shveyko.

In a press release, Brian Madigan, vice president of corporate and campus partners at Grubhub, said, “while college campuses are notoriously difficult for cars to navigate, specifically as it relates to food delivery, Yandex robots easily access parts of campuses that vehicles cannot — effectively removing a major hurdle universities face when implementing new technology.”

The robots are able to reach places on campus that most cars are not able to. The robots are also able to deliver to frequented places on campus such as dorms, the Main Library, Albert B. Weaver Science-Engineering Library, McKale Center and more.

Some students on campus have already ordered from the robots, and it catches the attention of many students when they see one outside of their dorms. 

“I think the robots are awesome,” said freshman student Matthew Larson. “They’re pretty easy … . The only thing I think students might have a little trouble with is scanning the QR code to open it.”

The robots have a lid that closes the food inside until it reaches its destination and is opened by the recipient of the order. This way the food is not able to be intercepted during transit.

The QR code, or numerical code depending on which one students receive through the app, is given to recipients upon completion of their order, along with the notification that their food will be delivered by robot. This notification helps students not look for a car or a person but rather these little white robots roaming around campus. The robots are fully operational seven days a week and can still be used despite various weather conditions including rain, wind and heat.

“Our ongoing partnership with Grubhub, and now Yandex, continues to strengthen and bring cool new innovation to our campus,” said Todd Millay, executive director of Arizona Student Unions, in a press release. “We’re lucky to be the second school in the nation to launch with Grubhub’s new robot delivery service, and we can’t wait for our students to enjoy the convenience of this amazing technology.”

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