While the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed classes to an online format for BGSU, the Starship robots are continuing to deliver food across campus and still need to be loaded and maintained. After what began as a stressful initiation of the robot delivery service, BGSU Dining employees will have to wait until next semester to see how food locations adjust to the bots.
Vice president of Starship’s public relations agency Janel Steinberg noted the importance of Starship to the campus community and students in need of jobs.
“In most cases, the services we are offering never existed in the locations we are now serving. We’re proud to be able to create new jobs and help people gain experience in technology that will be part of our lives in the years to come,” Steinberg said.
Starship is committed to serving the community, both with new jobs and access to campus food.
In a BG Falcon Media interview, Starship Launch Manager Hanna Sippos said students would be operating the robots as hybrid operators.
One of the hybrid operators is junior public relations major Reid Zura, who pointed out the popularity of the robots. He said due to popularity, Starship was able to double its fleet and hire more students to care for the robots.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an increase in jobs for students, that has provided work for those who would otherwise be struggling. Director of Marketing and Communications for BGSU Dining Jon Zachrich said more jobs will be needed soon. The more open positions means more jobs for students in need of a source of income after the pandemic.
“Once things go back to ‘normal’ on campus, I think that more positions will be needed as the popularity grows,” he said.
BGSU Dining has had to hire more employees to help accommodate for the popularity of the food delivery itself. Zachrich noted Starship has created the position of “robot handler.” The responsibility of this position is to get the order information, make or pick up the order from the restaurant, put the order in the robot and then send it to the customer.
“In BGSU Dining, the ‘robot handlers’ were positions whose responsibility was to handle orders from start to finish at various locations,” Zachrich said.
However, Paige Broka, an on-campus worker in the Falcon’s Nest, said she believed the robots were unnecessary.
“I do not think they handled the oncoming of the robots well, because they were understaffed in all aspects: food service workers and robot runners,” she said.
It was introduced overnight to the campus workers, which caused confusion and stress, Broka said.
Victoria Cline, an on-campus worker at Starbucks, claims the robots are efficient, but preparing food and drinks was the challenge. Starbucks was the first business on-campus to offer the delivery system, as workers were given only a couple days notice the robot delivery system was going to start in the coming week.
“I have had to remake many orders and sometimes there are duplicates or the orders are lengthy on top of other drinks, but overall, I did not mind it after warming up to it,” Cline said.
The workers had to learn the flow and the system the robots run on in a short amount of time to get things on track.
Raeann Barnes, an on-campus worker, thought the robots were going to be cool, but on launch day discovered how underprepared the staff was. The orders constantly came in, making it difficult for the staff.
“They made it a lot more stressful. My staff was not happy. … A lot of problems arose, understanding the flow was difficult and it made our space seem so much smaller,” Barnes said.
Cline said it made her co-workers stressed out and agitated, which rubbed off on others. Broka said it was especially difficult when there was an after-class rush.
“Starbucks already has a very busy schedule, knowing extra orders would come in often was hard and we had no say,” said Cline.
Then BGSU Dining started to make more hires in order to keep up with the demand of the robots.
“We had to add over twenty shifts to our schedule. We hired robot runners who were actually very quick to pick up the gist of the job. It was starting to feel normal again,” Barnes said.
She was excited to see how the robots would progress further and how it would affect her work. However, the campus only got a few weeks to work with them, COVID-19 moving students off-campus and into online classes.
Barnes said the initial launch was done poorly; Cline and Broka were in agreement about the launch.
“I just feel that we weren’t prepared at all to take on the Starship robots quite yet,” Broka said.
When someone orders from the Starship app, it is the responsibility of the robot handlers to ensure food is delivered to the customer. Robot handlers help to make the transition from restaurant to dorm more efficient and safer for students on campus.
“The robots are cleaned multiple times a day and are inspected by the student employees. General wear and tear happens which is maintained by a support employee,” Zura said.
These support employees are essential for ensuring the robot fleet remains up and running.