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Northland Steps Up: Grocery shopping robot in high demand on the Range

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BABBIT, MN -- It is typically not good when there is a loose shopping cart in the grocery parking lot, but most shopping carts are not run by an old video game controller.

At the Zup's in Babbit, that cart is actually a robot, made by a group of kids who are taking contact-free shopping to the next level.

Zoey Cameron, Isaac Hendrickson and Oskar Koivisto are students at Northeast Range School.

They are also on the robotics team.

One of their top inventions has been a robot that shoots t-shirts into the crowd at the city's annual parade.

When the pandemic rolled in, they gave it a more serious role.

"It kind of came up as a joke. Then two hours later it was a reality," said Hendrickson.

The kids made some modifications, transforming the robot into a grocery delivery machine at the Babbit Zup's.

"From what we'd seen it was pretty much impacting the older people, and that's pretty much the demographic here in Babbit. And we thought it would be a great way to help people," said Koivisto.

Seeing the team's ad in the newspaper, folks were able to sign up for the service online or over the phone.

When shoppers pull up to the store, the kids go shopping.

They wear masks and sanitized gloves, fill the robot's boxes, and roll the robot out to the cars for delivery.

"This morning they were lined up, and at lunch we had a few lined up," said Northeast Range Robotics Coach Ryan Lindsay.

He is pleasantly surprised by the high demand for the service.

"Rather than sitting at home playing video games, they're spending the days getting this set up and putting ads in the paper. It's fun to see," said Lindsay.

School kids, finding a way in this tough time to care for their community.

"A lot of people said it was really helpful for them," said Hendrickson.

"To see kids step up," said Lindsay. "Everyone loves to see the best in the future, and makes you have faith that, hey, we're going to be alright."

The service is free.

The students re-sanitize the grocery boxes and their gloves with every new order.

They will be out there with their robot next week, and might be deploying other delivery robots at other Range stores soon.

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Dan Wolfe

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