Starship Technologies robots will be delivering groceries from Kroger to Bowling Green State University students when they return in the fall.

“The big thing is it reduces exposure,” said Jon Zachrich, director of Marketing and Communications for BGSU Dining by Chartwells, said of the expanded delivery service and its relation to the coronavirus pandemic. “It really provides a nice option for those who are trying to social distance, for whatever the reason.”

This gives people an option who do not want to venture out for food and supplies, Zachrich said.

“We’re doing everything we can within our dining facilities: putting up Plexiglas barriers, hand sanitizer stations, all of our employees and patrons are going to be required to wear masks. All of those different things we can do we’re trying to do,” he said. “But some people are still really concerned about (coronavirus exposure), so we really want to provide additional options to everybody, so they feel comfortable using our services. The robots work really well for that, because of the way we sanitize them after every delivery.”

There is also the mobile pickup location provided by the computer app. It allows the customer to have the delivery location to be as specific as an outdoor bench the customer might be sitting on.

The delivery option with Kroger will be available to anybody within the current 3-square mile delivery area, which includes off-campus locations.

“Really, it’s just another tool in the toolbox to provide healthy safe options for students, community members, anybody who eats with BGSU,” Zachrich said.

This is the first of what could be a larger delivery concept revolving around the robots.

A challenge for BGSU Dining was determining how to have the Kroger stock available, given the wide array of options and the distance from campus. The combination was a strain on the time commitment for the robots. It has been solved by their developing what Zachrich called a concierge service. He compared it to having private shoppers choose the groceries and then having them driven to a central location to be then put in the robots for delivery.

“It’s really nice to see that there is still some continued interaction between the community and the robots. I think it will be interesting this fall, especially with students coming back, with the steps we have been taking to keep people safe and providing options,” Zachrich said. “We’ve been trying to find a way to balance the need for students, as well as the greater community when it comes to trying to be responsible regarding the wider pandemic.”

During the summer, there have been 27 of the little 6-wheeled Starship Technologies robots working from their hub on the BGSU campus. But by the time students return for the fall semester that number will be back up to 50.

There were 48 on campus when the robots in the spring, two weeks before campus closed.

There is a new mobile app address, Starship-BG.com, since the expansion to the larger Bowling Green community.

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