Houston Matters

How Delivery Robots Navigate The University Of Houston Campus

Houston Matters orders something from the new delivery robots on campus, and not everything went according to plan.

Delivery Robot UH Cougar Statue
A delivery robot rolls past the cougar statue at the University of Houston,

Last fall, the University of Houston became the first college in Texas to use robots to deliver food orders on campus.

Some 30 of the six-wheeled, white, rectangular robotic vehicles deliver food orders from several campus restaurants.

VIDEO: Delivery Robots at Work on the UH Campus

Hungry UH students and staff can use the Starship Deliveries app to order food from 11 different restaurants, and a robot will drop it off at a building’s entrance.

We decided we wanted to learn more about them. So, we gave Houston Matters producer Brenda Valdivia an assignment: order something for the robot to deliver. So, she did. But things didn’t go quite as planned.

She ordered a cup of white tea lemonade from Starbucks (which normally costs $3.95 but totaled $7.46 after various delivery fees).

And there was some confusion about where her order was going to be delivered. So she ended up having to chase down her order — so much so that she had a bit of a collision with the robot when it stopped abruptly.

Aaron Becker, an assistant professor in the UH Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering says the robots aren’t perfect yet but they offer a nice — and futuristic — solution for busy people on campus.

And he says they know how to handle one of Houston’s biggest problems — heavy rain. During the first week they were on campus, one of Becker’s post-doctoral students saw one sitting in front of a puddle.

Delivery Robot in Front of UH Sign
In Nov. 2019, the University of Houston became the first college in Texas to use robots to deliver food orders on campus.

“And it would inch forward and then notice the puddle and it would back up and it would look at it,” Becker said. “That’s actually very wise, right? You’re not supposed to drive in Houston through any water that you can’t see the bottom of. And the robot couldn’t see the bottom.

In the audio above, Becker tells Houston Matters producer Brenda Ruiz more about how the technology works and about the potential to see robots like this someday traversing the city as a whole.

A delivery robot on the UH campus.
A delivery robot on the UH campus.

Share

Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

More Information