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Robots hit the streets as demand for food delivery grows

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 24: The Broward Sheriff's Office bomb squad deploys a robotic vehicle to investigate a suspicious package in the building where Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) has an offce on October 24, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. A number of suspicious packages arrived in the mail today intended for former President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the New York office of CNN. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Robot food delivery is no longer the stuff of science fiction. But you may not see it in your neighborhood anytime soon.

Hundreds of little robots __ knee-high and able to hold around four large pizzas __ are now navigating college campuses and even some city sidewalks in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. While robots were being tested in limited numbers before the coronavirus hit, the companies building them say pandemic-related labor shortages and a growing preference for contactless delivery have accelerated their deployment.

“We saw demand for robot usage just go through the ceiling,” said Alastair Westgarth, the CEO of Starship Technologies, which recently completed its 2 millionth delivery. “I think demand was always there, but it was brought forward by the pandemic effect.”

Starship has more than 1,000 robots in its fleet, up from just 250 in 2019. Hundreds more will be deployed soon. They’re delivering food on 20 U.S. campuses; 25 more will be added soon. They’re also operating on sidewalks in Milton Keynes, England; Modesto, California; and the company’s hometown of Tallin, Estonia.


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