They have returned. UK’s campus is once again home to a fleet of Starship robots, delivering food, cautiously crossing the street and threatening the toes of Wildcats everywhere.
Starship is a robot-based food and package delivery service. Those local to the Lexington area or returning UK students may be familiar with the service, as the small white robots were spotted across the campus last year.
The delivery service was not active on campus for the first three weeks of the semester. Then, UK posted a TikTok on Sept. 9 saying, “it feels like something’s been missing from campus the past few weeks…” The video cut to a robot on what appears to be the corner of Lewis Honors College.
In a TikTok comment, Ph.D. student Tasha Swenney said, “[I’m] so glad I can get coffee delivered with a song again. This is a great day.”
Last school year, they could be found outside buildings, in the middle of the road and at crosswalks making many deliveries around campus. They were popular among students and the surrounding community. While some students had logistical concerns about how they would work or the effectiveness of their deliveries, many found them cool and innovative.
Over the past few weeks students weren’t sure if Starship itself ended their services on campus or if UK had taken the robots away.
Many students believe that campus would not be the same without them. Whether they were active users of the service or just enjoy seeing them around, students agreed that campus felt different without them.
“My favorite part about them being on campus is how easy it is to transport things,” Brian Berton, a sophomore psychology student, said. “Some people may be under the weather and not feel up to par to go outside.”
The robots made their claim to fame on many forms of social media over the past couple of years. There have been photos and videos posted from across the nation of people attempting to reroute the robots, standing in their way and having to assist them when they get flipped over.
On UK’s campus specifically, there was a video released last September of a robot being hit by a car that went viral. It received around 15 million views and 1.2 million likes on TikTok.
On the day they returned, many students stopped to take pictures of and with them to post to social media. The news of their return spread rapidly, leading to mixed opinions.
This service was beneficial for students and the surrounding community over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of the delivery service allowed students to maintain social distancing on campus, limit contact with others and decrease their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“I feel like with COVID it was so good for people who had [COVID] or for people who didn’t want to leave their dorm,” Deebha Adhikari, an alumna and student event staff member in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, said.
There has been mostly positive feedback, but some believe that they can be a nuisance. There have been many examples posted online of the robots failing at their services, including getting lost, not being able to operate on certain terrain, not being able to cross the street and halting traffic.
“They get in the way on the sidewalk for sure,” Colton Cornell, a sophomore accounting student, said.
Regardless, the fleet of Starship robots is back at its post in the bluegrass, delivering Wildcats’ Panda Express and Starbucks orders, rain or shine.