University Implements Food Delivery Robots - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
University Implements Food Delivery Robots
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With an endowment of roughly $13.3 billion, the University of Notre Dame has cash to burn. Its latest expenditure? A fleet of little robots that deliver food to students across campus. Welcome to the future. 

Prior to this latest development in the university’s dining service, students, faculty, and staff had to order food from a campus restaurant through the Grubhub app and pick up the order on-site. Starting today, six restaurants offer robot delivery to locations across campus. 

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. It’s kind of fun, kind of stupid, and kind of too early to gauge how the campus will react to the presence of robots. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t worth getting upset about, even though I would happily banish all robots — and electric scooters, for that matter — from Notre Dame’s campus. (READ MORE by Mary Frances Myler: Not-So-Sweet Victory)

I spoke with several students to gauge how the robots fared during the first day of delivery.

Nico Schmitz, a junior, said that the robots seemed overwhelmed by crowded sidewalks during passing times between class periods. “I watched a robot freak out on South Quad because there were too many people around it,” he said. 

“Later, two robots were too afraid to cross the street. There was a car parked near the intersection, but since it was in range of the robots’ sensors, they wouldn’t cross,” Schmitz said. One of his friends was hit by a robot during a run this morning. Without sensors on its side, the robot had turned a corner and rolled straight into the path of the unsuspecting jogger. 

Schmitz expressed skepticism about the long-term viability of automated delivery, citing additional costs and longer waiting times as disadvantages to the system. “There’s a $3.49 delivery fee, and it takes about 40 minutes to order during busy times,” he said. “There’s no way that it’s worth it.”

Delivery robots might make more sense for an urban college, but Notre Dame’s campus is small and self-contained. Realistically, students walk no more than 10 minutes to pick up food from a campus restaurant, and bikes, skateboards, and scooters shrink that time even further. When someone creates a product that addresses a need, we call him a good businessman; when someone invents a problem and then creates a product to solve it, we laugh at the customer. 

Merlot Fogarty, a junior at Notre Dame, was also skeptical of the utility of delivery robots. Throughout the day, she found several robots parked in front of doors, blocking access to buildings. Accessibility and mobility issues like the ones mentioned by Fogarty led the University of Pittsburgh to cancel its trial of these same delivery robots in 2019. 

Fogarty sees the move to increased automation as a lingering holdover of COVID culture. “This is what happened during COVID,” she explained. “Students just stayed in their rooms. And this delivery service is making that all the easier for students. They can just order their food on an app and never have to talk to anyone.”

Fogarty is right. During the pandemic, dining was deemed dangerous, and COVID restrictions stripped away the human connection traditionally associated with food. Before the pandemic, restaurants on Notre Dame’s campus operated through in-person and online orders. After the university lifted the restrictions, the impersonal element of dining remained, with nearly all restaurants requiring virtual ordering. (RELATED: Amazon’s Robot Workforce Set to Doom the American Worker)

Perhaps it’s silly to be nostalgic for queues at campus coffee shops, but food has always been an important focal point of community, whether on campus or in the home. Meals are best shared with friends, and no student should be too focused on work to take a short break for a meal. Delivery robots are decadent and impersonal, feeding habits of isolation and instant gratification. And in a world that increasingly prioritizes efficiency and convenience over human connection, resisting the robots feels like a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. 

Call me old-fashioned, but I will not eat bugs. I will not live in a pod. And I will not eat bugs delivered by a pod.

Mary Frances Myler is a postgraduate fellow with Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government. Her writing has been published in The American Conservative, National Catholic Register, Law and Liberty, and the Federalist.

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