Robots could roam near UNLV to deliver food to thousands of students, staff

Robots could roam near UNLV to deliver food to thousands of students, staff
Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 10:16 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Robots could roam the public sidewalks and crosswalks around UNLV to deliver food to thousands of students and staff, but it all hinges on where Clark County officials permit them to go.

Since 2022, ten robots run by company “Starship” have delivered food to students and staff across campus. The “personal delivery devices,” or PDDs, weigh 75 pounds, have 12 cameras to detect motion, and move at walking speed.

The company told lawmakers in a hearing for Senate Bill 422 that Clark County code did not permit these devices on sidewalks or crosswalks. The legislation allows for these devices to access public thoroughfares, but allows local jurisdictions to determine where they can operate, and allow law enforcement to enforce traffic rules.

It’s up to Clark County to decide where these devices can operate in their future ordinance. The Clark County Commission will start the process of creating an ordinance on Tuesday.

UNLV officials told lawmakers, there are hopes for these robots to deliver to student housing and offices north, south and east of the campus: The U District, University Gateway, and the Echo Apartments. The robots may have to cross Maryland Parkway and Tropicana Avenue to access some locations.

More than 3,000 students and staff could benefit in the following ways: avoiding long lines from 10,000 people at the Student Unions in between work and class, and cutting out walks around the area late at night when pedestrian robberies have posed a concern. The cost of delivery via robot is cut in half or more, officials said.

UNLV provided FOX5 a statement from Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Keith Rogers: “We’re thankful for the support of the Nevada Legislature in approving SB422, and we appreciate the willingness of Clark County to explore the possibility of expanding food services for UNLV students and staff. We believe it will provide more access to food options on and around our campus, and we look forward to working with county officials throughout the process.”

Some students and locals liked the idea, but had questions about whether it is safe for the robots to cross the busy Maryland Parkway.

“Crossing Maryland Parkway? I don’t know how that’s going to work. It’s a pretty busy street,” one student said. According to UNLV, the devices stop several feet from a object and are designed to avoid running into people.

“Pedestrians themselves have trouble crossing the street, let alone a little robot,” said Erica LeClair, an Uber Eats driver.

According to Starship in testimony to lawmakers, the PDDs must have $100,000 limited liability insurance.

The Uber Eats driver did say that the robots could help; the area around UNLV is hard for delivery drivers to navigate with parking restrictions, and most drivers don’t find it worth it to pick up smaller orders.

“There’s not enough people to come around and deliver food a lot of the times. A lot of the orders will go untaken. Maybe there’s not enough people, or maybe the money’s not there for the smaller orders,” LeClair said.