Robots have become increasingly popular in the last couple of years — and not just in sci-fi movies. Real-life robotics applications are prevalent worldwide from manufacturing to health care and, more recently, on college campuses.
These five intelligent machines are transforming everyday experiences for students and professors alike.
College campuses all over the U.S. are home to small self-driving vehicles that deliver food with next-gen flair. As of 2022, 170,000 students from over 25 universities had access to robot deliveries.
At the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, Starship food delivery bots transport everything from pizza to burgers and other tasty treats. Robots at the University of Tennessee Knoxville generally handle over 400 orders daily.
Physically, these bots look like a large food storage box on wheels. They’re equipped with sophisticated sensors, GPS and navigational cameras to achieve fully autonomous movements.
Food delivery robots on campuses have been a hit so far. In a recent survey of over 7,000 college students, 60% said the bots helped them study better by delivering food when needed. Ninety-five percent would happily recommend them to friends on other campuses.
Fancy a delicious smoothie made by a robot? Chef B’s on the job. This AI-powered automated kiosk at the University of San Francisco can blend a 12-ounce order of mixed fruits in under two minutes.
Customers place orders through an on-site tablet or the Blendid app. Chef B seamlessly goes through all the motions of making a smoothie — dispensing ingredients, washing blenders, serving the beverage into the right-sized cup and handing it to the customer.
Affordability is an integral part of Chef B’s value proposition. At the time of launch, a 12-ounce blend cost only $6 on average.
Similarly, there’s a robot barista serving up yummy brews at the University of Illinois. It takes about 30 seconds to whip up a drink from over a thousand possible combinations. The reception has been great so far, with high praise for its espresso. Fully autonomous, the cafe also serves 32 different kinds of delectable pastries.
The idea of deploying security robots in public places is nothing new. Applications have been generally successful. Using security bots resulted in a 46% reduction in crimes in Huntington’s largest public park within the first seven months.
Over the years, the design and functionality of these droids have been refined to meet evolving safety requirements. The latest iteration? Robot dogs. Pitched for campus security purposes in 2023, these mechanical mutts can swim and run up hills at an average speed of seven miles per hour.
The idea is to outfit them with smart sensors and advanced video capture to feed footage to a human operation 24/7. This introduces dynamism as the robotic dog can patrol the campus grounds and provide visibility into areas a regular CCTV system cannot capture.
It was only a matter of time until universities started having robot lecturers. ‘Professor’ Yuki is a 1.2-meter-tall teaching assistant at the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany. The humanoid robot relies on advanced artificial intelligence to facilitate both teaching and learning improvements.
Its performance is based on a wealth of pre-programmed responses, and it can speak fluent German, English and other languages. Students interact with Yuki dynamically and interactively, though the robot still needs some significant upgrades to achieve its full potential to provide individualized learning and timely, objective grading.
Driverless transport on campuses has been around for some time. Colleges in California, Arizona and Western Michigan have had access to autonomous shuttles since 2018.
More recently, the University of North Carolina (UNC) has commissioned a driverless vehicle project to cover a 2.2-mile route, expanding existing transportation services. The shuttle service connects 11 facilities — including a light-rail station — with six designated stops across UNC’s Charlotte campus.
Known as CASSI, these shuttles resemble sleek, smaller minivans with futuristic sensors to detect people or obstacles in their path continually.
Robotics is already a mainstay in the education industry and will likely play a key role in empowering the sector to meet future challenges. For one, it equips students with skills that are increasingly in demand in the workforce, including the ability to program and interact with robots. This can prepare them for careers in automation and artificial intelligence development fields.
Implementing robotics and automation into learning institutions can reduce staff labor requirements and increase efficiency, both of which are desperately needed in the global education industry. UNESCO estimates the world needs 44 million teachers to reach the 2030 Education goals. The situation has become even more urgent in light of current geopolitical instabilities that thrust the industry into uncertain times — and robots are poised to fill in the gaps.
Many students are also buying into the idea of robots on campus due to their potential positive environmental impact. Younger generations care deeply about sustainability and are quick to adopt technologies that streamline everyday life without harming the environment.
On the flip side, the increasing application scope of robotics means more and more traditional career paths are at risk of obsolescence or some other potential drawback. For example, recent research suggests a 0.2% drop in employment rates per 1,000 workers for each robot launched.
Even so, the general outlook is positive. The global educational robots market is projected to reach a valuation of over $5 billion by 2032, with a CAGR of 15.1% in the U.S.
As the world accelerates toward a digital future, colleges and universities can expect to see more integrations of autonomous technologies. These institutions have come to play an essential role as test environments for robotic applications. Campuses are well structured and rollouts would require fewer bureaucratic approvals.
This collaboration will speed up robotic advancements and open doors for creating sustainable, efficient processes in the higher education industry.