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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Starship Robots deliver food from dining halls on campus to various residence halls. 

Starship robots quietly disappeared from UW-Madison, but they'll be back 'soon'

As the summer came to a close and students and staff returned to campus, one thing remained missing: the Starship Robots. This year, the infamous robots once highlighted in campus tours and beloved by many students are nowhere to be seen.

Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis kickstarted Starship Technologies and created their first robot prototype in 2014, according to the Starship website. 

In January 2019, the Starships made their campus debut at George Mason University. Many universities followed, including Northern Arizona, Purdue and eventually the University of Wisconsin-Madison in October 2019. As of August 2023, 50 campuses are equipped with Starship robots.

Despite the UW Housing website and the Starship Technologies website stating that UW-Madison has access to a fleet of Starship robots, they remain nowhere to be found. 

“Closed for the summer break. We’ll be back for the fall,” the Starship app reads. 

Now, with fall classes underway, the robots are still gone. Where are they?

“We are currently working out some details for the fall relaunch and hiring students to help manage the program,” UW Housing told The Daily Cardinal when asked about the missing robots. “We expect the delivery service to return very soon.”

Starship Technologies appears to be working on the same thing. 

The company posted a job listing for a “Seasonal Campus Fleet Attendant” at UW-Madison in mid-September. According to the listing, a fleet attendant’s tasks involve daily fleet maintenance, on-the-fly repairs and teamwork to ensure smooth deliveries.

The Starship robots averaged around 30-40 deliveries per day, according to UW Housing. They also noted that there are a total of 10 robots, despite the Starship Technologies website saying UW-Madison has access to 30. 

UW Housing explained in an email that the discrepancy cannot be attributed to robots being lost, stolen or destroyed, as they have had no record of these occurrences.

“The delivery robots are owned by Starship Technologies and are provided to us at no cost. They handle maintenance and support for the robots. The only costs of the program to University Housing are a small fee per order to Starship and the wages for student employees who help manage the deliveries,” UW Housing said.

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In the past few years, many students took to social media to express their delight at seeing the robots around campus. 

One user captioned their TikTok of a Starship bringing their food with, “I giggle every time I see these things on campus!” Another caption read, “The starships have my heart.” Another user even made a video showcasing a Starship Halloween costume equipped with lights and a flag. Many videos showed students rushing to help robots stuck in snow banks. 

@badgercheermom I giggle every time I see these things on campus! 🤖🤖🤖 #starship #starshiprobots #fooddelivery #uwmadison #campuslife ♬ sonido original - 80s forever

Despite the positive social media response, not everyone shares this sentiment. One former Four Lakes dining hall employee shared her disdain for the robots.

“I worked with them last year. They sucked,” the employee said. “You could order something that was in stock at one dining hall but not the one you were ordering from. It gets hectic [because] the people who are working the starships are working the dining hall, too.” 

“I don’t even know what that is,” a Rheta’s Market employee said when asked about the Starship robots.

The presence of the robots — or lack thereof — has not made much of a difference to some students.

“I didn’t even notice they weren’t on campus, to be honest,” UW Madison senior Kenna Coan said. 

Coan admitted that she had only used the Starships once. Though she thought they worked well, she considered the robots to be unnecessary. 

“It was a 30- to 45-minute wait for food that was a five-minute walk away, so it was never really worth it to me,” Coan said. “[Students] thought they were cute. I don’t know about useful.”

Despite calling the robots unnecessary, Coan acknowledged that other students found them useful.

“They were good during COVID, and the people that liked them really liked them, you know?” Coan said. 

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