Aliza Eloise, a junior psychology major and Resident Advisor (RA) at Paul Jennings Hall, got back to her dorm room one night after hanging out with friends. She happened to glance outside her window and noticed a troubling sight.
“I got to my room and saw a Starship coming,” Eloise said. “Two guys picked it up, walked maybe 50 feet then stopped, took it into the grass and rolled it around before flipping it over and letting it go.”
On Sept. 11, Eloise recorded the vandalism incident involving two JMU students and a Starship robot. Eloise said she was unable to interfere during the incident due to her being on the fifth floor. Instead, she said she recorded it and sent the video in an RA group chat that she’s a part of.
“When I sent the video in the RA group chat, my hall director suggested reporting it for vandalism,” Eloise said. “I would have, but I don’t think I had the proper information to do that.”
Eloise said she believes it’s hard to say something in the moment, and it’s often hard to catch people vandalizing.
JMU’s Starship food delivery robots have been delivering food to students on campus since last year. Starships first made their debut at George Mason University in 2019, then arrived at JMU in 2020.
Brenna Gannon, a senior biology major, said she enjoys the robots’ presence at JMU. Gannon is a campus tour guide, and she said the most questions she receives on tours are about the robots, such as why they’re here, what they do and the most prevalent comment, “Why are they so cute?”
Gannon said the vandalism of Starships upsets her, and she said she hopes the perpetrators stop because JMU is one of the first schools to have this service on campus.
“I’d ask them to stop because we’re very lucky to have [the robots] here,” Gannon said. “Not very many universities have them, and they may get taken away if we keep abusing them.”
In an email, JMU Dining Services Executive Director Brent Beringer said dining doesn’t directly operate the Starship robots. Upon checking with Starship Technologies, Beringer reported that “they haven’t seen a level of vandalism that gives any concern.”
In an article by The Business Journals, Nick Handrick, Starship Technologies’ head of operations in Washington, D.C., said the robots are equipped with a number of anti-theft and anti-vandalism measures. He explained that if someone tried to steal the robot or the food inside it, the Starships have many GPS units inside, as well as nine cameras and many sensors to track each individual robot.
If someone were to mess with any of the Starships, Handrick said, the robot could simply take a picture or video of their face.
Some students, like Gannon and Eloise, hope the unfair treatment of the Starships is stopped soon.
“I don’t understand,” Eloise said. “What did they do to you?”
Contact Kingston Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.