Starship Technologies’ food-delivery robots will temporarily roam city streets after a Tuesday approval from the Board of Works to suspend a ban prohibiting motorized vehicles on sidewalks.
Starship Technologies has partnered with Purdue Dining & Culinary and will deliver all kinds of foods from Purdue retail locations and markets on campus, according to Robert Wynkoop, the senior director of auxiliary services.
“It could be a burger. It could be a drink. It could be coffee,” Wynkoop said during the meeting.
Wynkoop also said Purdue could receive revenue depending on total sales volume, but no official decision has been made.
Although members of the Board of Works approved to lift the suspension for Starship Technologies, many questions were asked before approval.
“Why do we need this?” board member Michelle Dearing asked, laughing.
“We need to do this if we want it to be allowed,” Director of Development Erik Carlson said.
Carlson also said the city of West Lafayette likes to focus on partnerships, as well as becoming a lab for autonomous vehicles.
“It would give us an opportunity to be more of a draw for West Lafayette, not just for people to say, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool,’ but for companies that may want to utilize and be a part of our community,” Carlson said.
Dearing asked why the delivery robots are any safer than the motorized scooters that are not allowed on sidewalks.
The Starship Technologies delivery robot is designed to travel the same pace as pedestrians, unlike the motorized scooters that can go up to 15 mph, Carlson said. The robot can also detect other objects around it so it can pause in the middle of its delivery journey.
The mapping system installed in the robot allows it to detect distance and when it is safe to cross the street without endangering pedestrians or vehicles.
However, State Street cannot be crossed until the city is “comfortable with it doing so,” according to Carlson.
The pilot program is temporary until the city code is officially changed to allow motorized vehicles on sidewalks.