It’s no secret that students adore the sight of Starship delivery robots on campus, but what exactly do these robots do from the wee hours of the morning to the late hours of the night?
Starship robots — known affectionately to students as “Tobors,” or “robot” spelled backwards — carry out automated food deliveries from several different UTD establishments including Taco Bell, Papa John’s and Einstein Bagel Bros. On Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, The Mercury staked out four Tobors for 12 hours, documenting the orders they carried and the friends they made along the way. Our day began at 9:30 a.m. with a Taco Bell order and ended at 9:30 p.m. with a Papa John’s order.
Morning (9:30 a.m, to 1:30 p.m.): Tobor 6E414
The day started bright and early with Tobor 6E414, who set off on three back-to-back deliveries from Taco Bell over the course of three hours. 6E414 may be small, with a body only 21.8 inches tall, but don’t let Tobors’ sizes fool you — they are fast when they want to be. Our first Tobor spent its morning traveling at an average speed of 2.39 mph. We were in for an unexpected day of cardio chasing 6E414 to UV Phase 5, UV Phase 2 and UV Phase 3.
The journey was circuitous, and because of curb cuts, 6E414 took a longer route to Canyon Creek Heights North just to get into UV Phase 2. Similarly, it made a trip through the Phase 8 clubhouse just to get around Lot H. The route to Phase 3 was more straightforward, however, and it was there that Tobor 6E414 met its first Comet of the day.
“I ordered Taco Bell – two beefy bean burritos,” computer science junior Ryan McKinstry said. “I am very tired today, I had a lot of work yesterday, and so I didn’t really want to go over there, even though it’s not that far away.”
McKinstry said that he had a good experience ordering, with the whole process taking 40 minutes. Starship has never messed up an order for him.
“They’re good,” McKinstry said. “They never are an annoyance to anyone. It’s fun seeing them around sometimes.”
After a morning of hard work, travelling 4.48 miles an hour, Tobor 6E414 stopped to rest at the Student Union at 12:29 p.m. 6E414 spent several hours sleeping at the SU, so The Mercury decided it was done for the day and moved on to track the next subject.
Midday (1:30-5:30 p.m.): Tobor 6E377
After a couple of hours of inactivity from our original Tobor, we began to follow Tobor 6E377. We caught 6E377 just in time for its afternoon Taco Bell rounds at 4:28 p.m., when it set off on a long journey to CCHN.
This order was different from the steady flow of orders we saw 6E414 deliver in the morning. Once we arrived at the location with 6E377, the order was cancelled. Starship refunds students for cancelled orders within five business days.
After repeating its standard chorus of “order delivered” and “thank you,” the Tobor moved back to the SU broken-hearted, still holding its cancelled order. 6E377 arrived at the SU at 5:10 p.m. after 2 miles on the road and sat there for several hours.
Evening (5:30-9:30 p.m.): Tobors 6E531 and 6E773
After Tobor 6E377’s order was cancelled, it became inactive – whether that be a regular schedule or in retaliation for the undelivered order. So, we followed a new robot through the evening – Tobor 6E532. 6E532 started at Papa John’s and made the two-mile round trip to Canyon Creek Heights South and back to the Tobor garage under the Student Services Addition at an average speed of 2.8 mph.
Leaving at 5:45 p.m., Tobor 6E532 traveled down Drive H to CCHS to bring a Papa John’s order to computer science sophomore Allison Scurry. Scurry said that her experience with the Starship app was overall smooth, and that she chose to order because of how far Papa John’s is from CCHS.
“Sometimes I feel like they take a little long if they’re super busy and if there’s not enough of them. In the busy hours and stuff like that,” Scurry said.
After traveling around the soccer field back to central campus, Tobor 6E532 pulled up to the garage under SSA, where it went to sleep for the night at 6:35 p.m.
After our third Starship robot became inactive, we moved to our final subject: Tobor 6E773. This Tobor again delivered from Papa John’s to UV Phase 2 and then returned to SU for the night, travelling a little more than 2 miles at a fast average speed of 3.6 mph.
Navya Teja Gajula, a Papa John’s employee and computer science graduate student, loaded the final order of the day into Tobor 6E773 at around 7:00 p.m. We took this time to ask her a few questions about her experience working with Tobors as a food service worker, particularly her thoughts on the workload with Tobors.
Gajula said that Starship robots made filling orders simple, as all that is required is scanning the QR code and shutting the lid. And while Gajula has never ordered from a Starship robot herself, she expressed a fondness for our school’s informal mascot, calling Tobors “cute.”
Gajula said that the frequency of orders depends on the day. Since meal exchange is only available on weekdays, order traffic is generally higher then. She also mentioned that in the future, Starship might improve its services by giving the robots more voice lines to communicate with passersby to combat student loneliness.
“So Monday through Friday, it’s the peak time,” Gajula said. “Every one second, one customer comes. On the weekends, it is pretty chill. Not so chill, but it’s cool. We can breathe while working.”
Because Sundays are slower, we were able to get a few words in, but our interview was cut short as Tobor 6E773 left to finish its route. 6E773 travelled around the pond and then down Rutford, briefly stopping in the middle of the street at Loop Road SW due to a car. As we know, Tobors are skittish creatures, and 6E773 took a few minutes to get up the courage to keep moving.
Once it was ready, 6E773 travelled the rest of the way down Drive H to deliver a Papa John’s pizza to math sophomore Riley Arredondo in UV Phase 2. Arredondo said that he ordered through a Starship robot primarily because of convenience.
“To be honest, I’m just kind of lazy,” Arredondo said. “It’s also just, it’s pretty far from here.”
Like other students we spoke with, Arredondo said that he had a seamless ordering experience and appreciated the presence of Tobors on campus.
“I just think they’re really cute, to be honest,” Arredondo said. “I just love seeing them going around doing their own thing. I’m always really tempted to just pet them on the top.”
After a long day of deliveries, Tobor 6E773 returned to the SU to sleep for the night at 7:37 p.m., which concluded our day of tracking Tobors’ lifestyles.
Students interested in ordering from a Tobor should download the Starship app.