Russian-made Yandex food delivery robots remain on campus, Grubhub ‘considering contingency plans’ amid Ukraine invasion

Yandex, a Russian tech company, is providing the food delivery robots on campus through Ohio State’s partnership with Grubhub. Credit: Tom Hanks | Lantern Reporter

Following the invasion of Ukraine, some Buckeyes wonder what the future holds for Russian-made food delivery robots on the Ohio State campus.

Yandex, a Russian tech company, is providing the food delivery robots on campus through Ohio State’s partnership with Grubhub. The robots remain operational – although Grubhub said it continues to monitor the conflict in Ukraine and “considers contingency plans” as the United States and other countries impose economic sanctions on Russian leaders and oligarchs.

University spokesman Chris Booker said in an email that Ohio State has a contract with Grubhub for automated food delivery rovers, and Grubhub chose Yandex to supply them after “extensive due diligence”.

“Grubhub is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and keeping abreast with the US State Department of any sanctions imposed on Russia,” Booker said.

Grubhub spokeswoman Katie Norris confirmed the company is monitoring the conflict in Ukraine, including “any developments that impact our operations and our partnership with Yandex’s Self Driving Group.”

“We remain in close contact with our Ohio State partners and are reviewing contingency plans,” Norris said in an email. “We take seriously our responsibility to the universities we partner with — and ultimately the student diners who order on the Grubhub platform — to make food ordering and delivery available.”

Norris did not respond to another query about what those contingency plans might entail. A Yandex company spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Marianna Klochko, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State’s Marion Campus, said that while she understands Ohio State only works indirectly with Yandex through its contract with Grubhub, she thinks the university should either ask Grubhub not to use Yandex robots or break its contract. with the company.

She said she urges university leaders to take a stand.

“Profit shouldn’t drive our decision-making all the time,” Klochko, who is also the counselor for student organization The Ukrainian Society of The Ohio State University, said in an email.

Angela Brintlinger, professor and acting chair of the Department of Slavic and Eastern European Languages ​​and Cultures, said in an email that she heard from students majoring in Russian and teachers that many people around of them did not know that Yandex was a Russian company.

University spokesman Dave Isaacs said there are currently 50 delivery robots on campus, with plans to increase that number to 100 over time.

On the other hand, Brintlinger said people in his field of study think it’s crazy that Russian-made robots roam campus in the first place, but skepticism of Yandex is less prevalent in outside his domain, including within the Ohio State administration.

“I just don’t think the administration, people who don’t know about Eastern European companies, would have even noticed,” Brintlinger said. “They just didn’t know what they were doing.”

Still, Brintlinger said she doesn’t think any of her colleagues have made a concerted effort to get the robots off campus since they arrived. Now, however, she thinks the time may be right to go to the administration and ask for the removal of delivery robots.

Brintlinger said she recognizes breaking a contract with Grubhub was a big step and the university would need a strong reason to do so. Still, since the Russian government is “so blatantly violating international law,” she thinks now is a good time to divest from delivery robots.

“We can choose our contracts more carefully. And I’m sure getting out of a contract like this could be tough, but it’s a choice we could make,” Brintlinger said. “We have business dollars that we use, and we can use them neutrally, completely neutrally. I’m not asking anyone to be an activist, but we don’t need to use them with companies that act in bad faith or are linked to political actors who don’t act in good faith.

Booker said the university continues to monitor the situation in Ukraine and aims to offer resources and support to students who may be affected by the conflict.

“The academic community continues to watch events in Ukraine unfold with concern for those who are and will be affected by this conflict,” Booker said.

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