There’s an icy wind in front of the Hatta building, and it’s pouring with rain on Wednesday afternoon. However, this has not deterred the thirty people waiting. Susanne Reubsaat, ‘commercial hero’ of the Spar, has just ordered two bottles of coke and a banana on the Spar-University app.
A small white trolley zigzags through the gateway of Sanders building. In the reading room, students look up in surprise from their lawbooks. Rosie’s supervisor walks slowly behind the robot with a controller, smiling at the spectators. An orange flag towers between the shoulders of the spectators. It takes the robot four and a half minutes to travel from the Spar to the Hatta building. Reubstaat keys in a code displayed on her phone and lifts the trolley’s lid.
Robot Rosie is a prestige project involving EUR, the municipality of Rotterdam, the metropolitan region of Rotterdam-The Hague, the Spar, and robotics company Dutch Automated Mobility (DAM). For two years, the company tested the trolley. So far, its development has cost 100,000 euros in subsidy and sponsor money, says DAM manager Alwin Bakker. Most of that budget was spent on legal matters.
Within six months, the developers hope that the trolley will be a permanent feature on campus. Marijke Weustink, director Real estate & facilities at EUR, is hoping for a partnership between people and robot. “This is a unique opportunity to give students the scope to work on it and see whether it could be useful in the future, and thus contribute to innovation in the city.”
According to Tim Klein, who developed the robot at DAM, the technology behind Rosie has already proved itself but will take some getting used to, for both her and the campus. “In California, we already see big autonomous vehicles on the provincial roads. We’ve learned from that, and I think that this campus is a good place to try her out.”
We hear the words ‘testing for safety risks’. Words which don’t seem suited to this somewhat unassuming robot trolley. The main issue is ensuring that the robot doesn’t collide with anything.
The developers want to test safety risks, among others. The primary danger is that the robot will collide with something. “Rosie has built-in cameras and sensors which measure how far away an object is and tries to steer her around it. But we are now trying to perfect that.”
Bakker assures us that the cameras do not violate anyone’s privacy. “No one need worry about being secretly filmed. We don’t store any images. The filming is merely for navigation purposes.”
He hopes that students and staff will soon become familiar with Rosie. We know from testing that there are few safety issues, but you learn most in practice.”
According to director Bakker, earlier consumer research has shown that customers are prepared to pay at least two and a half euros for a robot delivery. After three months, that is what the Spar will charge for orders.
However, can one robot serve an estimated 3300 regular campus visitors per day? Bakker thinks it can: “After six months, we hope we might be able to introduce more robots.”
Rosie is more about action than words. After her lid is opened, she quickly trundles off.