Robot delivery service expands at George Mason University — and may be coming to a college near you

Heading to the college dining hall to get some grub is so last semester — at least for some students at George Mason University.

“In the very beginning, people used to just order drinks so they could have a robot come to their dorm and show all of their friends,” said Kayla Shifflett, a GMU junior who works as a robot-runner at Blaze Pizza on campus. “They’re ordering more normal things now. … It’s helped us do our jobs and get stuff to more people that can’t come get their pizza.”

The program now has more than 40 robots with delivery services from a handful of popular spots, including Dunkin’, Blaze Pizza, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Steak ‘n Shake, with Chick-fil-A and Starbucks options coming soon. Sodexo says Blaze Pizza has taken off in popularity, with some 70 robot orders coming in per day.

To be sure, the service suffered some bumps along the way, mainly in navigating construction around the GMU campus, along with winter storms. Sodexo says the students have been helpful, even lifting up the bots as they tried to venture across snow to get them back on course.

Victoria Orosa, a senior, is one of the students happy not to have to leave the dorm or on-campus job to get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. “I don’t like walking across campus to get food, and so when I found out we had Dunkin’ I was like, ‘Yay — coffee that will come to me that I don’t have to walk in the cold for.'” Orosa said she uses the service every few weeks when things get hectic and finding time to go out for food can be challenging.

Sodexo said the early success at GMU led to an expansion to Northern Arizona University, with plans for more to come. Service at NAU’s Flagstaff campus began last week.

“We want to get this right and make sure that every brand is ready to go,” said Jeffery McKinley, Sodexo general manager at GMU.

And while the idea that robots are replacing human employees is a common notion, particularly in the food industry, Sodexo and Starship say they’ve actually created more than 20 new positions for students in managing either the robots or orders associated with them.

“I would say it’s added a couple of jobs. It’s more work, so it’s added instead of taken away,” robot-runner Shifflett said. “It’s definitely a nice addition.”

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