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Robots provide alternative food delivery method for UNR students during harsh winter

A small, boxy black and white robot with six wheels is stationary in front of restaurant doors.
Zoe Malen
KUNR Public Radio
A Starship delivery robot waits to receive food from the Habit Burger location on the University of Nevada, Reno campus on Feb. 15, 2023.

Starship Technologies utilizes robots to make food deliveries on numerous college campuses in the U.S., including the University of Nevada, Reno, and one thing is certain — they sure turn a lot of heads when rolling around campus.

On a recent chilly afternoon at the University of Nevada, Reno, Habit Burger employee Max Kochanski was loading a little black and white box on six wheels with food. It’s not just a box on wheels, and it’s not quite R2-D2: it’s a food delivery robot. They’ve become a familiar sight on the UNR campus since their debut in the summer of 2021. Part of Kochanski’s job is loading and sending these robots on their way.

“It’s not too difficult. It’s easy, gives me something to do, and I get paid, Kochanski said.

Students, faculty and staff can order food through this service through its mobile app and have it delivered to many places across the campus. Sometimes the robots can be seen crossing busy Virginia Street.

Dylan Barrett from Starship Technologies said it's convenient for students.

“We know how dispersed the food offerings can be at different campuses, and time management is a skill that some of these students are developing, right? And your schedule may not allow you to go get, you know, the food that you would like during a class intermission or something of that nature,” Barrett said.

Aside from the convenience, Barrett said the robots are also eco-friendly.

“Our robots are completely CO2 zero emissions. So it also reduces car congestion and pollution in the campus university as well,” Barrett said.

But he said there are even more advantages. During inclement weather, students don’t have to walk in the elements to get their food. The robots are designed to handle winter weather, including snow.

For UNR student Quincy Rustead, the bot came right to the front doors of her dorm, and she was excited to get her food.

“I mostly use it when I don’t really have the energy to go out and get food all the way over there in the dining hall,” Rustead said.

But to fully understand how the process worked, I knew I had to try it out myself. I ordered a burger and some fries and narrated my experience.

“So it looks like I’ll be getting my food soon. It said the robot is on its way. And I basically had to walk over to the next building because they do not, they do not serve the building where I work at, so yeah, I just had to go for a little walk.”

After about a 40-minute wait, I watched my new robot friend come down the sidewalk, and I followed it around until it stopped at the pickup location. But it didn’t really like it when I got too close. This is what happened.

“I’ve been trying to get close to it, and each time I get close, it stops moving because it’s trying not to get trampled.”

But there was an unexpected plot twist after I left with my food.

“So, after I got my food, I discovered that it gave me the wrong food, and that’s pretty unfortunate.”

Of course, this wasn’t the robot’s fault, but for someone trying out the service for the first time, I was a little bit disappointed.

KUNR's Nick Stewart is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

As a note of disclosure, the Board of Regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to this station.

Nick Stewart is a former student reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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