Courtesy of Starship Technologies.

Soon, pedestrians in and around the University of Pittsburgh’s Oakland campus will be sharing the sidewalks with a fleet of robotic couriers.

On Aug. 20, the San Francisco-based startup Starship Technologies announced they’d raised $85 million to rapidly expand their services. Founded in 2014, Starship specializes in autonomous food delivery done by robots like the one you see above.

The company plans to bring their robots to 100 campuses within the next 12 months. After operating at George Mason University since January and rolling out at Purdue University on Sept. 9, Pitt is up next for Starship.

Stakeholders got their first look at the project last week when the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC) held a public meeting where Starship gave a presentation on the project.

The university has confirmed to us that Starship’s service is due to launch later this fall, but the company declined to offer further specifics about the project to NEXTpittsburgh. According to the minutes of the meeting, they plan to begin a staged rollout in mid-September. The fleet will eventually have 25 autonomous rovers carting goods (presumably to hungry students) from campus food vendors such as Forbes Street Market.

The robots are about three feet high, battery-powered, and weigh around 6o pounds with no cargo. They can only travel up to four miles per hour. Like the self-driving cars we see on our streets, they navigate through a combination of onboard sensors and GPS software.

Kevin Zwick, communications manager for the University of Pittsburgh, tells NEXTpittsburgh that the school is currently working with the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI) and community groups like the OPDC to successfully manage the launch.

DOMI could not be reached for comment on Friday. Wanda Wilson, executive director for the OPDC, says her organization has no official comment on the project but is happy to serve as a forum for further community discussions.

The food delivery service poses obvious practical challenges for the flow of traffic and people throughout the bustling neighborhood. According to the minutes of the public meeting, several attendees expressed concerns over the potential for traffic and bicycle accidents.

“It’ll be interesting to see how they interface with people there in the public right of ways,” says Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District, which has no formal role in the project.

Despite the potential issues, Petropoulos tells NEXTpittsburgh that the project is intriguing and at least worth a test run on Oakland’s streets.

“Yet again,” she says, “it’s great to see Pittsburgh trying out new things.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.