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Recent announcements by Starship Technologies to deploy its robotic meal delivery vehicles at four additional college campuses.

5 tech things: Robots continue to invade campuses

This and the debut of automated food lockers at University of Houston are some of the tech-related developments you may have missed recently.

In this special edition of its 5 Things series, Food Management highlights five recent technology-related developments affecting the foodservice world.

Here’s your list for today:

  1. Campus robot invasion accelerates

Recent announcements by Starship Technologies to deploy its robotic meal delivery vehicles at four additional college campuses (University of Illinois Chicago, University of Kentucky, University of Nevada, Reno and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus) and Kiwibot’s deal with Sodexo to deploy its robots at New Mexico State University, Loyola Marymount University and Gonzaga University highlight the recent growth of automated food delivery on college campuses. Meanwhile, at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where the Starship robot delivery program staged one of the earliest extensions of its service into the surrounding community, a pilot program has now expanded robot delivery to eight local commercial foodservice businesses ranging from a coffee shop and burger bar to smoothie café and a Qdoba unit. For Bowling Green students, the difference is that they can’t use their meal plans to pay for orders from the off-campus businesses like they can with on-campus food outlets that offer robot delivery but must instead use a commercial credit card.

Read more: Robots ready for more: BG businesses using Starship delivery

  1. Automated food lockers debut at University of Houston

The University of Houston and food service provider Chartwells Higher Education have partnered with Apex Order Pick Up Solutions to offer self-serve automated food lockers on campus from which students, faculty and staff can access their mobile orders to the new Asado Burritos & Bowls station, a Chartwells-created dining brand offering customizable Tex-Mex such as burritos, low-carb bowls and classic sides. Employees load orders from the back of the two-sided flow-thru food lockers while customers pick up their orders from the front, ensuring fast and contactless pick-up.

Read more: Apex Self-Serve Automated Food Lockers Debut at University of Houston

  1. Taco Bell to open completely touchless drive-thru

Taco Bell revealed plans to debut a new touchless restaurant concept called Taco Bell Defy that will feature a four-lane drive-thru—three with mobile check-in and pickup areas—scheduled to open in Brooklyn Park, Minn. in the summer of 2022. The contact-free check-in screens will enable customers to scan a QR code to place their orders, then receive their food from the elevated kitchen via a proprietary lift, eliminating any interaction with staff. The fourth drive-thru lane will offer traditional service that allows customers to place orders at a kiosk and drive ahead for pickup.

Read more: Taco Bell Paves the Way With Contactless Drive-Thru Concept Restaurant

  1. Market pressures pushing foodservice kitchen automation solutions  

With the combination of scarce labor, an unprecedented increase in demand for takeout/delivery and the minimal margins that delivery allows, restaurateurs are looking at technology solutions even as the falling cost of sensors and actuators, plus the growing power and accessibility of the software to drive them, are making more innovations viable. Still, challenges posed by food safety issues and the complexity of manipulating ingredients to produce desirable food beyond simple dishes remain even as strong market pressure builds to come up with practical solutions, some already beginning deployment overseas.

Read more: Amid the Labor Shortage, Robots Step in to Make the French Fries

  1. High-end pizza vending machine debuts in Denver

High-end pizza vending machine vendor Basil Street recently piloted its first unit, which utilizes a patented three-element non-microwave speed oven that delivers a 10-inch Italian style, thin-crust pizza in approximately three-minutes. Intended for environments like universities, airports, and other high-traffic areas, the units will offer selections at each location that will vary and rotate but will include classic staples such as four-cheese, pepperoni and supreme alongside seasonal “Pizza of the Month” offers, all made with fresh ingredients flash-frozen to preserve nutrients, flavor and freshness before being cooked to order. While not the first pizza vending unit, the Basil Street machine represents the continued advancement of ever more sophisticated automated meal service options that not only require no labor to operate (except to replenish) but can offer 24/7 service to customers.

Read more: One of the nation’s first pizza vending machines is rolling out pies right here in Denver

Bonus: Cool tech solutions help solve labor, customer service problems

Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]

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