Intrigued students and University of Maryland stakeholders circled around a small twirling robot near the Yahentamitsi Dining Hall on Thursday during a presentation from Starship, an autonomous robot delivery company.
If Starship establishes a partnership with this university, robots would roam around campus, delivering food ordered by students via the GrubHub app, according to Starship sales director Robert Buehler.
When a student’s order arrives, they would be notified via the GrubHub app and be able to unlock the robot. Only the intended recipient would be able to access the food inside.
“Nobody’s going to get in there and get those french fries,” Buehler said.
Starship currently has a presence at more than 20 of campuses around the country. If the company were to partner with the university, it would be the first campus in Maryland with the Starship robots, according to Buehler.
The service earns money by charging both delivery and service fees. Buehler said bringing the Starship robot to campus would financially benefit this university by increasing business for on-campus restaurants.
Sophomore information science major Ishaan Chakraborty hopes the cost of the delivery service is reasonable.
“If it’s cheaper than Doordash, I’m all for it,” he said.
The robots can also anticipate order locations, according to Buehler.
“In the morning [the robots] may go to your most popular breakfast spot, and then later in the day they’ll start migrating over to the lunch spots,” Buehler said. “They just are smart enough to go where we think orders are going to come from.”
Some community members, including University of Maryland Police Department Chief David Mitchell, expressed concern that the robots could potentially cause danger.
“Any type of self-mobilized activity on campus that’s going to be on crosswalks, I want to make sure that it’s safe for our students to be around,” Mitchell told The Diamondback.
Theodore Zabel, a freshman civil engineering major, is also worried about potential crashes.
“I’ve already been in a crash with a scooter and another bike,” Zabel said. “I just can’t imagine what the stupid fucking robot would do.”
Buehler hopes to work with this university to ensure the robots are able to safely load and move around campus in a way that doesn’t disrupt students. The robots can adjust their paths to avoid construction and will stop if someone steps in front of them, according to Buehler.
Mitchell is also concerned that the robots could face security issues.
“What if somebody hacks in here and starts spewing hate, or any other disparaging comments?” he said.“That would be a very traumatic event here on this campus.”
Starship’s robots have never been hacked, and the company has security measures in place, Buehler said.
If someone tries to interfere with a robot, it will warn them through a speaker, then contact the authorities and sound an alarm if necessary.
“The biggest challenge we have in terms of vandalism is people love to put little googly eyes on the robot,” Buehler said.
Stakeholders at this university plan to continue discussing Starship and the possibility of bringing the robots to campus.