Robot 509 from Starship Technologies is both patient and skittish. The autonomous machine, which resembles a Yeti cooler crossed with a Waymo minivan, moves around like a mammal near the bottom of the food chain. It freezes up in crowds and, even when utterly alone, scoots forward in halting spurts, seemingly suspicious of fallen leaves.
A few days after Thanksgiving, Robot 509 ferries some cargo across the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. It stops on a deserted road, waiting for about a minute before finally scooting across, then trundles over a stretch of pavement and some railroad track before coming to a full stop.