Food robot testing has resumed


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Starship’s food delivery robots have been criticized for creating difficulties at crosswalks for wheelchair-using students.

By Jon Moss, Assistant News Editor

Starship Technologies resumed testing of its food delivery robots Friday at noon, after halting testing temporarily due to concerns over accessibility.

Emily Ackerman, a fifth-year engineering doctoral student, posted a viral Twitter thread Monday afternoon describing a “major safety and accessibility issue” posed by the robots. Ackerman said the robots sit in sidewalk curb cut-outs while waiting to cross the street, creating difficulties for wheelchair users like herself that need to use the cut-out to reach the sidewalk.

Starship apologized in a statement issued Tuesday morning, and said the robots are not intended to sit in the curb cut-out. But after reviewing footage of the incident involving Ackerman — each Starship robot is equipped with a camera — the company issued a new statement late Tuesday evening which did not include an apology.

Starship spokesperson Henry Harris-Burland said the recovered video showed Ackerman traveling “past the robot without stopping.”

“We are always grateful when any potential issues are flagged to us that can help make us better,” Harris-Burland said in the statement. “We have reviewed the footage from the reported incident yesterday afternoon and are glad to see that Emily was able to travel past the robot without stopping.”

Harris-Burland added that the company updated the robots’ mapping to allow for additional room at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard, where the incident occurred, and that the company will review other intersections on Pitt’s campus to take similar precautions

University spokesperson Joe Miksch said in an email today that Starship is reinstating human supervision of the robots’ testing, and no formal launch date has been decided upon.

“The testing will be conducted under human supervision and remotely through cameras and other sensors,” Miksch said. “We encourage feedback during this additional testing as we move toward the launch of the delivery service.”

Contributed reporting by Emily Wolfe.