Rolling robots risk rain to replenish rations


They’re cute, annoying in a crowd and seemingly everywhere on lower campus, but how do the Starship robots perform when you’re hungry for lunch? I decided to put them to the test on a drizzly day when leaving my building to get lunch just wasn’t appealing.

Starship Technologies robotThe University Times offices are on the western edge of Starship’s delivery area, which currently ranges from McKee Place to Craig Street, and Fifth Avenue to Louisa and Pier streets in South Oakland, stretching over to the Frick Fine Arts Building and the Carnegie Museum of Art. So basically, you’re out of luck if you work in mid or upper campus.

The restaurants participating in the food delivery service right now are limited to Forbes Street Market, Einstein Bros. Bagels in Posvar Hall, Common Grounds in Litchfield Towers, Tres Habaneros at the Cathedral Café and several establishments on the bottom floor of William Pitt Union — Auditions, Taco Bell, Nicola’s Garden and Sub Connection.

I chose to order from Einstein Bros., since it’s the farthest away from our office at 3525 Forbes Ave. (connected to Forbes Hall). After having to restart the app several times (it froze up at different points in the process), I was finally able to place my order at 11 a.m. — ahead of the lunch rush. Here’s what happened:

11 a.m.: Your order has been placed, estimated time to arrive 35 minutes

11:08 a.m.: Your order is on its way (you can follow the robots progress on the Starship app).

11:20 a.m.: Your order if 5 minutes away, please go to the pickup point.

11:25 a.m.: Your order has arrived, meet it at the pickup point and bring your phone.

My order was delivered to the main door at Forbes Hall, which is about 15 feet from our office door, and was waiting when I walked down the stairs to greet. The robot sensed my phone nearby and asked me to confirm the delivery. It then unlocked its cooler, revealing a small box with my bagel and lox from Einstein’s. After retrieving my food and closing the cooler, the app asked me to send the robot on its way, by sliding a bar across the screen, and off it went with a cheery, “Hail to Pitt.”


  • I didn’t have to walk in the drizzle to get food.
  • The food temperature was fine, but hard to say what it would be like on a hot day or if I had ordered hot food.
  • Delivery took about the same time it would have taken me to walk to Posvar, stand in line for my food and walk back. But expect longer wait times during peak hours. At noon the next day, the app listed delivery time from Einstein’s as between 25 and 46 minutes.
  • You don’t have to tip a robot.


  • The $1.99 delivery charge boosted the cost of my simple bagel sandwich to almost $10. But if you’re ordering for a few people, the charge doesn’t amount to much per person.
  • Restaurant selections are pretty limited right now.

  • The app seems glitchy and froze up several times.

  • Apparently, the robots are allergic to hills, which leaves a large part of Pitt’s community out of the loop. So don’t expect any deliveries yet from the new Chik-Fil-A, which opened last month at the Petersen Events Center. But maybe in the future, according to a Tweet from Pitt Dining last week.

Tweet about Starship robots picking up Chik-Fil-A

Pitt is one of Starship’s first experiences with an urban campus, instead of a self-contained set of buildings. There have been complaints that the robots have blocked ramps, causing dangers for people in wheelchairs. And it’s pretty easy to run into or be run into by one when the streets are crowded during class change.

But the 30 autonomous robots are an interesting addition to the Oakland landscape, and a welcome sight on cold, gray days when foraging for food holds no appeal.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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