Stuck because a robot won’t move out of the way might sound like a dumb episode of “Black Mirror,” but that was the reality for a doctoral student on the University of Pittsburgh campus.
Emily Ackerman, a chemical engineering student who uses a wheelchair, said she was crossing the street as she does every day, but a Starship food-delivery robot blocked her path, leaving her stuck in a busy street. Ackerman was able to navigate up on the curb, and later took to Twitter to share her story.
when a person who NEEDS to use the curb cut is crossing toward it and it refuses to move, the person is trapped in the street. when the light ends and the robot hasn’t sensed a safe time to cross, it forces the person to remain in now moving traffic.
— 👻Emily Eek ! Ackerman 👻 (@EmilyEAckerman) October 21, 2019
Soon after, Ackerman was featured in news reports discussing how, in the land grab for new technologies, minorities groups such as the disabled community can be completely forgotten.
Robots are making major inroads on college campuses, particularly changing how students utilize dining. Until now, though, there haven’t been any public issues with human and robot interaction. This disturbing situation happened just two days after the robots started operating on the campus. Operations have since been “paused” by the university as it reviews the technology.
Starship released a statement after Ackerman’s story hit the TV news. In the statement, the company thanked Ackerman for flagging the “potential issues,” and said it had made changes to the maps guiding its robots. It also noted its work with the blind community and the 350,000 miles and 100,000 safe deliveries that have taken place before this incident.
Read or watch the full story at the WTAE News website.