Food delivery robots have taken to North Texas streets marketed and tested in cities like Arlington and Frisco.
It’s a contactless option that seemed ideal during the pandemic and while the robots mostly travel by sidewalk, they occasionally have to cross the street. But what happens if you’re in an accident with one?
In June, Frisco resident, Jisuk Mok was on the road, waiting at a stoplight and as it turned green, the trouble began.
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“I heard something smashing my car on the left side,” said Mok.
At first, Mok thought it was an animal but didn’t see one.
“I found out that a 'Starship' robot hit my car,” said Mok.
Mok says it did more than $2600 worth of damage to her front bumper.
In May, the city of Frisco partnered with California based, Starship Technologies to offer a high-tech way to deliver food and groceries in west Frisco.
'Starship' had just relocated from The University of Texas at Dallas after the pandemic shut down the campus.
“Normally, I see the robot around the sidewalk but it is the first time I see one on the street,” said Mok.
After the accident, Mok wasn’t sure what she should do. There wasn’t a phone number on the robot so she went to the Frisco Police Department to file a report.
“I asked the police officer if the robot is classified as a vehicle because they drive, you know, the sidewalk and street but he said, 'oh, I’m not sure,'” said Mok.
She also reached out to the city but Mok says they never responded to her questions.
Mok filed a claim with her insurance company but says they told her she’s out her deductible unless she could prove the accident wasn’t her fault.
When she finally reached someone at 'Starship' she learns there is a video of the accident. They told her they would send it to her but that never happened.
“She told me they don't want to release the video and the video is their property, so they don't have the right to be forced to release the video,” said Mok.
So Mok turned to NBC 5 Responds for help.
Through an open records request, we learned there was another accident at the same intersection reported on May 18.
The report says the “robot was hit by a vehicle and is in the roadway.”
NBC 5 contacted both the city of Frisco and Starship Technologies asking about the accidents and why the robots don’t have a phone number listed in case of an emergency.
The city told NBC 5 Responds that Starship deployed 35 personal delivery devices and spent ten weeks testing in west Frisco this summer.
In an email, Starship provided a response to NBC 5’s questions.
"Over the past 4 months, we’ve been working hard to provide contactless deliveries to communities across the US including Frisco. We moved our robots from the university campuses that had closed in March, and into cities where we could help residents under ‘shelter in place’ orders during the COVID pandemic get their groceries delivered to their door. We also offered free deliveries to all healthcare workers to make life a little bit easier for them during this stressful time. The feedback we received from the community was overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve been humbled by the need and support for our service during these difficult few months. After supporting the residents in Frisco, our robots are now returning to university campuses to help students, faculty and staff stay safe with contactless deliveries.
The incident in question happened at a crossing where the robot was traveling at a low speed of 2 mph and scuffed the bumper of a car. There have been one or two similar situations in the past, but the robots cross more than 15,000 roads every day without incident so this situation is rare. The robots have completed more than 500,000 autonomous deliveries to date. If anyone wants to get in contact, our website is written on both sides of the robot. The website provides names, office addresses and emails of contacts within Starship.
We’ve been very proud to serve the community of Frisco over the past 4 months and we’re looking forward to coming back in the future."
In a video posted on the city’s YouTube channel in June, they discuss plans to expand delivery to other parts of Frisco. but the city told NBC 5 Starship pulled out on August 7.
Jisuk Mok let us know Starship finally agreed to pay the more than $2600 for the damages done to her car.
“Nobody listened to me. When I sent the email to 'Starship' robot company, the insurance company and even the city of Frisco, they didn’t listen. Thank you, NBC, because you listened to me,” said Mok.
Mok hopes the company does more to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.
“The robot has to have the phone number for emergency,” Mok said.
Had this accident been with another car, Mok said it would have been much easier to exchange insurance information but because this was a robot it made things so much harder.
With college campuses opening back up, 'Starship' has since moved back to The University of Texas at Dallas but never responded why they pulled out of Frisco.