Bomb threat in food delivery robots at Oregon State University

A bomb threat was issued at Oregon State University (OSU) on Tuesday, warning students that explosives could be hidden inside one of the dozens of Starship food delivery robots used throughout the campus.

At exactly 11:51 a.m. PT, the OSU Department of Public Safety (DPS) received a report that “an improvised explosive device would be placed in a Starship Technologies food delivery robot on the OSU Corvallis campus,” OSU News and Communications Director Sean Nealon told Cybernews.

An urgent alert was then broadcast to OSU students and faculty minutes later on the university’s social media channels.

“Bomb Threat in Starship food delivery robots. Do not open robots. Avoid all robots until further notice,” the public safety warning stated on X.

An hour later, an OSU update stated that technicians were on the scene to investigate, and urged the campus community to stay vigilant and report any incident-related activities.

“The DPS began remotely isolating robots in a safe location for inspection by a law enforcement dog trained in bomb detection,” Nealon said.

The autonomous delivery service was contracted by OSU University Housing and Dining Services back in October 2020. About 75 robots are in service for food delivery on OSU's Corvallis campus.

“At 1:52 p.m., all robots had been inspected; none contained any explosive devices,” Nealon said, and students and faculty were given the all clear.

“Emergency is over. All Clear. You may now resume normal activities. Robot inspection continues in a safe location,” the alert update said.

Meanwhile, it turns out the threat was called in by an OSU student as a hoax, according to a statement released by Starship Technologies, the company behind the fleet of delivery robots at the school.

Nealon confirmed that the DPS arrested the individual believed to be responsible for the threat, but did not say if the suspect was a student at the university.

Starship Technologies suspended its robot services and all food and beverage orders were immediately cancelled once the threat was received, Nealon said.

“A student at Oregon State University sent a bomb threat, via social media, that involved Starship’s robots on the campus,” the San Francisco-based tech company said.

“While the student has subsequently stated this is a joke and a prank, Starship suspended the service. Safety is of the utmost importance to Starship, and we are cooperating with law enforcement and the university during this investigation,” the company concluded.

One X user posted on the OSU page that the prankster behind the incident was actually a local morning talk show host, although no other proof was provided to back up the claim or that the person named actually exists.

According to the school, all the robots should be back in service by late afternoon. Students were also refunded for any orders via their original payment method, Nealon said.

Starship Technologies autonomous robot delivery company was launched in 2014 by two former Skype employees.

Besides OSU, the fleets of self-driving robots can be found at over two dozen college campuses in the US, including Purdue University, Notre Dame, and UCLA, as well as nearly a dozen areas and retailers in the United Kingdom.

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