December 10, 2019 News Magazine

Kiwi’s food delivery bots are rolling out to 12 new colleges

If you’re a student at UC Berkeley, the diminutive rolling robots from Kiwi are probably a familiar sight by now, trundling along with a burrito inside to deliver to a dorm or apartment building. Now students at a dozen more campuses will be able to join this great, lazy future of robotic delivery as Kiwi expands to them with a clever student-run model.

Speaking at TechCrunch’s Robotics/AI Session at the Berkeley campus, Kiwi’s Felipe Chavez and Sasha Iatsenia discussed the success of their burgeoning business and the way they planned to take it national.

In case you’re not aware of the Kiwi model, it’s basically this: When you place an order online with a participating restaurant, you have the option of delivery via Kiwi. If you so choose, one of the company’s fleet of knee-high robots with insulated, locking storage compartments will swing by the place, your order is put within, and it brings it to your front door (or as close as it can reasonably get). You can even watch the last bit live from the robot’s perspective as it rolls up to your place.

The robots are what Kiwi calls “semi-autonomous.” This means that although they can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, each has a human monitoring it and setting waypoints for it to follow, on average every five seconds. Iatsenia told me that they’d tried going full autonomous and that it worked… most of the time. But most of the time isn’t good enough for a commercial service, so they’ve got humans in the loop. They’re working on improving autonomy but for now this is how it is.

That the robots are being controlled in some fashion by a team of people in Colombia (where the co-founders hail from) does take a considerable amount of the futurism out of this endeavor, but on reflection it’s kind of a natural evolution of the existing delivery infrastructure. After all, someone has to drive the car that brings you your food as well. And in reality most AI is operated or informed directly or indirectly by actual people.

That those drivers are in South America operating multiple vehicles at a time is a technological advance over your average delivery vehicle — though it must be said that there is an unsavory air of offshoring labor to save money on wages. That said, few people shed tears over the wages earned by the Chinese assemblers who put together our smartphones and laptops, or the garbage pickers who separate your poorly sorted recycling. The global labor economy is a complicated one, and the company is making jobs in the place it was at least partly born.

Whatever the method, Kiwi has traction: it’s done more than 50,000 deliveries and the model seems to have proven itself. Customers are happy, they get stuff delivered more than ever once they get the app, and there are fewer and fewer incidents where a robot is kicked over or, you know, catches on fire. Notably, the founders said on stage, the community has really adopted the little vehicles, and should one overturn or be otherwise interfered with, it’s often set on its way soon after by a passerby.

Iatsenia and Chavez think the model is ready to push out to other campuses, where a similar effort will have to take place — but rather than do it themselves by raising millions and hiring staff all over the country, they’re trusting the robotics-loving student groups at other universities to help out.

For a small and low-cash startup like Kiwi, it would be risky to overextend by taking on a major round and using that to scale up. They started as robotics enthusiasts looking to bring something like this to their campus, so why can’t they help others do the same?

So the team looked at dozens of universities, narrowing them down by factors important to robotic delivery: layout, density, commercial corridors, demographics, and so on. Ultimately they arrived at the following list:

  • Northern Illinois University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Purdue University
  • Texas A&M
  • Parsons
  • Cornell
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Nebraska University-Lincoln
  • Stanford
  • Harvard
  • NYU
  • Rutgers

What they’re doing is reaching out to robotics clubs and student groups at those colleges to see who wants to take partial ownership of Kiwi administration out there. Maintenance and deployment would still be handled by Berkeley students, but the student clubs would go through a certification process and then do the local work, like a capsized bot and on-site issues with customers and restaurants.

“We are exploring several options to work with students down the road including rev share,” Iatsenia told me. “It depends on the campus.”

So far they’ve sent out 40 robots to the 12 campuses listed and will be rolling out operations as the programs move forward on their own time. If you’re not one of the unis listed, don’t worry — if this goes the way Kiwi plans, it sounds like you can expect further expansion soon.


Source: TechCrunch

Tags: in Uncategorized
Banner
Related Posts

Tesla all-electric ATV makes a surprise debut at Cybertruck event

November 22, 2019

November 22, 2019

Tesla CEO Elon Musk definitely didn’t have the most issue-free presentation during last night’s Cybertruck unveil, but he did pull...

TC’s Greg Epstein and Kate Clark talk mental health startups and the ‘Cult of the Founder’

September 27, 2019

September 27, 2019

Some weeks, tech ethics is in the news. And some weeks, it IS the news. This week was one of...

APIs are the next big SaaS wave

September 6, 2019

September 6, 2019

Daniel Levine Contributor Share on Twitter Daniel Levine is a partner at Accel. He joined the firm in 2010 and...

The Galaxy Book S is Samsung’s Windows-powered answer to the MacBook Air

August 7, 2019

August 7, 2019

We were hoping for at least one surprise during today’s big event. At the end of Unpacked, Samsung debuted the...

‘Anti-Uber’ taxi strikes kick off again in Spain

January 21, 2019

January 21, 2019

Taxi drivers in major cities in Spain are on strike again to apply pressure for more stringent regulations to control...

Wedding dress customizer Anomalie raises $13M as bridal stores crumble

June 25, 2019

June 25, 2019

David’s Bridal once owned 50% of the $36 billion wedding gown market before it filed for bankruptcy last year. Brides...

Google brings its Jacquard wearables tech to Levi’s Trucker Jacket

September 30, 2019

September 30, 2019

Back in 2015, Google’s ATAP team demoed a new kind of wearable tech at Google I/O that used functional fabrics...

Billionaire clothing dynasty heiress launches Everybody & Everyone to make fashion sustainable

October 28, 2019

October 28, 2019

Veronica Chou’s family has made its fortune at the forefront of the fast fashion business through investments in companies like...

Spotify’s app for artists gets a big revamp, adds real-time stats for any song

September 24, 2019

September 24, 2019

Spotify this morning is rolling out an updated version of its app for artists, across both iOS and Android. The...

Simbe raises a $26M Series A for its retail inventory robot

September 12, 2019

September 12, 2019

San Francisco-based robotics startup Simbe just announced a $26 million Series A. The round was led by Venrock and features...

Xbox One does away with discs in new $249 All-Digital Edition

April 16, 2019

April 16, 2019

Discs! What are they good for? Well, if they’re nice if you don’t want to be tied to an online-only...

Pro.com raises $33M for its home improvement platform

January 17, 2019

January 17, 2019

Pro.com is basically a general contractor for the age of Uber and Prime Now. While the company started out as...

Nintendo Switch Online gets SNES games September 5, plus new SNES controllers

September 4, 2019

September 4, 2019

Nintendo Switch Online, the subscription-based online services component of Nintendo’s Switch console, will get SNES games starting on September 5...

Mubi launches streaming service in India

November 19, 2019

November 19, 2019

Mubi, a 12-year-old on-demand movie streaming and rental service, has arrived in India. Like other streaming services giants such as...

George R.R. Martin’s Elden Ring RPG is official

June 9, 2019

June 9, 2019

Among the more eagerly anticipated titles of this year’s E3, Elden Ring leaked out just a few days ago. The...

Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *