Robots officially roll out

Brina Sturm, Assistant Lifestyles Editor (She/They)

Starship delivery services have officially been rolled out for South Dakota State University students, and they have been discovering all of the features (and lack thereof) that the robots have (or don’t).

At Monday night’s Student Association meeting, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Doug Wermedal and SDSU’s Aramark general manager Heidi Haro answered several questions that students, staff and the Senate had about the new bots.

SDSU is in negotiations with Aramark and other competitors for a contract to run campus dining. Because the robots are contracted through Aramark, any new provider would have to contract with Starship to continue the service.

Aramark and SDSU have contracted with Starship to use the robots until the end of this academic year, according to Wermedal. If the reception is positive among faculty and students, the robots will likely stay on campus for the next academic year as well.

The robots patiently wait at crosswalks for cars to pass, slowly stroll behind students as they walk to class and are consistently tracked on the Starship mobile app. It’s a lot of politeness from the previously bullied bots.

The initial rollout is an expectedly slow process. With only three restaurant options (Papa John’s, Starbucks and Grille Works) in the Starship app, students anxiously await updates and improvements. It was confirmed at the SA meeting that in the coming months, the robots will operate out of all sites except Chick-Fil-A.

“We hope to double the number of bots we currently have. We recently rolled out 16, and we will have more bots before we have more delivery sites,” Wermedal said.

The delivery robots spend nights in the Agricultural Engineering building.

“We tuck them in at night and tell them little bedtime stories,” Wermedal joked. “They don’t snore.”

The robots may not snore, but they sure do sing. With your order, you can request from a small variety of three songs that can play while you grab your order from the robot; but be warned, this music plays very loud. As much as students would love to hear “Meet Me At Our Spot” by THE ANXIETY, Tyler Cole and Willow at full blast as they grab their crab rangoons from the trunk of a tiny robot, not all students passing by signed up for the Starship’s serenade.

In addition to the unnecessarily loud music, the Starship mobile app has yet to allow students to connect their Flex meal plans. Upon opening the app, a service update states that “Flex and meal plans [are] coming soon!”

The novelty of robots that sing and carry around food is amazing on its own, but the purpose of the robots has a higher meaning.

Haro stated that the goal of the rollout is to divert people away from dining lines, which have become more challenging with Aramark’s staffing shortage.

As food staff and students navigate through robotic trials and tribulations, the food delivery service will improve with greater menu options, restaurant options and, maybe someday, song volume options.