STUDENTS at a Scottish university campus will from today be able to order takeaway food to be delivered piping hot to wherever they are … by a robot.

The system is being piloted by University of Edinburgh startup Pixconvey, whose founder, artificial intelligence and robotics PhD student Ebtehal Alotaibi, is on a mission to increase trust in autonomous vehicles.

In 2014, Alotaibi lost her aunt in a car accident caused by driver error. She wanted to create an autonomous taxi but after receiving commercialisation advice, she decided to start with a “smaller prototype with a happy face”, which uses the same driverless technology.

Alotaibi said: “The car accident also claimed the life of my aunt’s husband. She was just 30 and their three children are left without their parents.

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“I did some research and found that 94% of car accidents are caused by human error, so there is a lot of potential for driverless vehicles to be safer.”

Alotaibi’s custom-built robots, Pixie 1 and 2, adapted from the Bayes Centre’s HUSKY model, will deliver orders from the Kings Buildings’ cafe in the library to students across campus in a pilot she hopes could eventually be rolled out across the city.

The team is supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service. Alotaibi said: “Getting takeaway food delivered is increasingly expensive, partly due to labour costs and shortages.

“Where cars are used, it also increases greenhouse gas emissions and, during the pandemic, there were hygiene concerns too.

“We think Pixconvey can address all these issues – electric vehicles have zero emissions, our business model is an affordable monthly subscription for the restaurant and the robot sanitises food cartons using LED rays.”

Although the Pixconvey robot can navigate roads, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings once it has mapped the terrain, current UK road regulations do not allow for autonomous vehicles without following specific protocols.

A successful campus trial would pave the way for a road trial. Alotaibi will collaborate with King’s Building’s catering service, which will integrate the widely used Upay takeaway app with Alotaibi’s Pixconvey app.

Dr John Lonsdale, head of enterprise at Edinburgh Innovations, said: “It’s great to see another of our student entrepreneurs showing their ingenuity and initiative to develop new technologies.

“We are delighted to be able to support Ebtehal in her innovation journey.”

The project also provides a test bed for students and researchers to explore machine learning in multi-agent systems. Researchers interested in taking part are encouraged to email here.