grubhub robot

Starship Technology robots launched on campus Jan. 30, 2023. 

Already partnered with Grubhub and Starship Technologies, East Carolina University began a robot food delivery service on Jan. 30 that has since seen a steady rise in usage, with only a few instances of vandalism.

Director of Dining Services Celia Daniels said the robots have made over 4,000 deliveries since they were activated.

“The top three locations for deliveries are Canes, Panda and Steak n Shake in that order,” Daniels said. “We started with 20 (robots) and are now at 46. Business will dictate if more robots are needed.”

One problem the robots have been facing is crossing 10th street to reach students in College Hill, Daniels said.

When robots are at the crosswalk, they do not cross the street until the walk signal is displayed, Daniels said, but the signal only changes if the crosswalk button is pressed. Sometimes the robots are held up at this location due to students crossing the street without pressing the button, Daniels said.

“Obviously, the robots can’t push the button,” Daniels said. “If someone walks up and stands there without pushing the button, the robot often asks if the person can help them out and push the button. Once they push the button the robot says thank you.”

None of the delivery robots have gotten lost on campus thanks to the GPS systems they’re each equipped with, Daniels said. However, she said there have been two instances of the robots being vandalized.

ECU Police Department Field Operations Captain Chris Sutton said the department is looking into how the vandalism took place.

“We’re having to go through mostly social media because nothing is being reported to us from individuals,” Sutton said. “We have had some good success with the security cameras on campus to track individuals that have been responsible for at least what we’ve found so far.”

No one has been charged so far, Sutton said. It would be up to the company that provides the robots to ECU to press charges for vandalism on their property, Sutton said.

If an individual is charged for vandalizing one of the robots, they may be required to pay thousands of dollars in restitution to either repair or replace the robot that was damaged, Sutton said.

“If it became too costly, the company that is providing the robots to us could pull out, but I think they’ve been so successful so far that if used properly and treated the right way, they could be here a very long time.”

student getting food from food robot

Junior psychology major Amiyah Eason retrieving her food from the starship robots.  

Sophomore theatre education major Matt Valyo said it was difficult to place delivery orders when the Starship robots were first brought to campus.

There were not enough robots available on campus to meet the overall demand at first, Valyo said. Since more robots have been added, he said getting food delivered is much easier.

“Eventually I ordered a sandwich from Subway, and I was finally able to get one,” Valyo said. “It was pretty smooth once I got one.”

Valyo said he is also aware of the robots being vandalized through videos on social media. Students should be considerate of people that use the robots to get their meals, Valyo said.

The robot delivery service has been noticeably popular, Valyo said, and the robots have been successful in their purpose.

“I hope people continue to respect them (the robots),” Valyo said. “They’ve become part of our daily lives. People don’t even turn their heads at them anymore, and I think that’s what needs to happen.”

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