Food robots delivering bombs? Oregon State campus shut down by 'prank'

Student's new dorm room comes with bars, not the good kind

Food delivery robots became a source of fear for students at Oregon State University on Tuesday after a bomb threat claimed explosives had been placed in an autonomous Starship bot.

"Do not open robots," OSU urged in a post on X at 12:20 p.m. local time. "Avoid all robots until further notice."

In a little over half an hour the Starship delivery bots at its Corvalis, Oregon campus had been remotely isolated and were being inspected. An hour later, the University reported an all clear and said the bots would be back in services, delivering ramen noodles to the students at the elite engineering school's campus.

"Out of an abundance of caution, DPS issued an OSU Alert message to notify the university community and began remotely isolating robots in a safe location for inspection by a law enforcement dog trained in bomb detection," OSU said in a statement. "At 1:52 p.m., all robots had been inspected; none contained any explosive devices."

The bomb threat, it turned out, was a hoax. 

According to a statement from Starship Technologies, which operates a fleet of 75 delivery robots on campus through a contract with campus dining and housing services, the threat was sent via social media. The student who sent it "contacted us again to inform us that the statement was a joke, but we take all incidents seriously and worked with law enforcement and the University to react according to protocols."

Joke or not, the hoax has reportedly left OSU student Ted Daniel Stock trying out a new dorm room with bars after a brief investigation led campus police to Stock as "the individual believed to be responsible for the threat."

It's unclear what motivated Stock to issue the threat aside from a mere prank and OSU officials didn't add any details about the nature of the threat, aside from saying the person behind it said "an improvised explosive device would be placed in a Starship Technologies food delivery robot on … campus." 

A jilted former delivery driver, perhaps?

If Stock, or anyone else, attempts to "break into, damage or pick up the robot" to steal an order or plant a bomb "a loud siren will sound as a deterrent," Starship told The Register. It's unclear if Stock would have had any official access to a bot to plant the bombs. 

Starship has been in business since 2014, and by 2016 had rolled out its six-wheeled bots in San Francisco and other cities, where they began delivering food and other goods at speeds of up to 6 kph (3.7 mph) with a 4.8-km (3.7-mile) range from their home base. 

The delivery bot firm was started by Skype co-founders Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, and in its nine years of operation has expanded beyond Silicon Valley to London and 50 US college campuses. ®

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