Explained: Starship delivery robots in Madison, WI


Our six-wheeled friends roaming the 608. | Photo by 608today team

If you’re anything like us, you can’t help but notice the little white robots roaming around Madison. Those six-wheeled delivery droids + their bright orange flags are frankly hard to miss. In order to debunk these little roving mysteries, we dug into the technology and services brought to Madison by this Starship fleet.

These robots traveled a long way before starting their commutes around the 608. Manufactured in Estonia, the delivery bots are a product of the San Francisco-based mobile technologies company — Starship. Today, 35 of them roam the busy UW-Madison campus serving up good eats to students + staff.

Here’s how it works
For students, staff + faculty of the university within the service area

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Current service area for the Starship fleet. | Map via University Housing

  1. Download the Starship Deliveries app.
  2. Select items from one of five on-campus eateries and drop a pin on your delivery location.
  3. Pay using any major credit/debit card or with your Wiscard
  4. Track the robots in real time progress using the interactive map.
  5. Meet your courrier outside, unlock it using the app + grab your food.

Pro tip: Pay with your Wiscard and receive a 5% discount on every order.

But how does it really work
For those more technologically curious

Starship robots are about 95% autonomous with some human help overseeing about 5% of travel — namely surrounding busy intersections + other high traffic areas. A GPS signal paired with advanced sonar + radar allows robots to detect objects within a six-foot radius.

Detectable elements include stoplights, moving traffic, plus pedestrian travel. The delivery machines have a maximum capacity of 20 poundsroughly 25 bags of cheese curds. Starship equates the weight limit to roughly three bags of groceries, though we prefer the cheese curd allusion.