Student start-up serves up food deliveries on NTU campus on self-driving robots

SINGAPORE – A student start-up at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has developed small self-driving robots that have delivered over 6,000 lunch and dinner orders on the campus in Jurong since June last year, when the circuit breaker ended.

Whizz Mobility, with its eye on the prize of commercialising its product, has been putting its FoodBots – there are five of them now – through the paces.

In December, the robots started making deliveries out of campus to the nearby CleanTech Park. Last month, they also expanded their repertoire, delivering drinks from bubble tea shops in NTU to various collection points on campus.

Whizz is currently partnered with Cates, a food delivery mobile application which has about 60 food and beverage merchants on its platform.

The robots may yet do more as Whizz is now in talks with two parties over collaborations that could see it extending its delivery services to non-food merchants.

For now, the start-up receives about 70 food orders a day, up from eight a day last August.

“The FoodBot represents a cleaner and smarter delivery alternative on the market, and is an engineering dream for us,” said Mr Melvin Foo, 23, a third-year engineering student at NTU and the founder of Whizz.

The team of six at the start-up – five from NTU and one from the Singapore University of Technology and Design – built their first robot during the circuit breaker in April last year.

The students 3D-printed the robot parts, designed their own circuit boards and wrote their own robotic software, fleet management software and algorithms.

(From left) Founder of Whizz Mobility Melvin Foo, lead mechanical engineer Herh Peng Leng, software engineer Lakshyajeet Dwivedee, lead electrical engineer Victor Gwee, and operations manager Zechary Hoe. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

The robots can each carry a load of up to 50kg and move at 5kmh, the average walking speed of pedestrians. They are also equipped with a camera.

While they are all-terrain, the robots are programmed to stay on the pavement and avoid grass patches, and travel on pre-mapped delivery routes.

Whizz pays students to monitor the robots in real time through the camera. Where needed, the students guide the robots to move safely when they are at places such as road crossings. The robots have had zero collisions to date.

Mr Zechary Hoe, 23, a third-year engineering student at NTU and the operations manager of Whizz, said the monitoring duties may eventually become a new job opportunity for others, such as people with disabilities.

Mr M. Ananda, owner of Indian food restaurant Ananda Kitchen, said his business has improved since using the FoodBots three months ago.

“I don’t have enough manpower to send the food to locations,” he said. “But the robot can pick up the food and deliver.”

“I now have a lot of new customers,” added Mr Ananda, who receives about 40 orders to be delivered via the FoodBots in a day. He receives about 10 to 15 orders a day from another food delivery platform.

“Students may be in NTU but they may not have the time to come down to the restaurant. Now, everybody can taste my food.”

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