🤖 Kiwibots Rolling In: From Food Delivery to Better Sidewalks
The last mile: The rise of robots on our city streets and college campuses.
Kiwibot: See how their friendly-looking sidewalk robots deliver smiles while also mapping out sidewalks for city planning. Watch our On Site video feature here.
You’ve likely seen them on the sidewalk. Small, friendly-looking, four-wheeled robots that can do everything from delivering goods to the elderly or food to students on college campuses.
Kiwibot, which was founded in 2017, launched the squat robots as a delivery service. In Miami, they’ve become a ubiquitous presence in places like the sidewalks of Brickell. But now the company is exploring other possibilities - including delivering not just goods but helping communities with areas like better city planning too.
“The robot can do a social good by informing governments on sidewalk infrastructure,” said David Rodriguez, co-founder and Director of Strategy and Business Operations at Kiwibot, the latest robot to stroll the sidewalks of Miami’s Brickell neighborhood. Its sidewalk mapping research can be used to inform cities about any issues on the right of way on sidewalks that decrease accessibility for everyone in the community.
Watch our latest On Site video feature here.
FROM COLOMBIA TO THE U.S.
The company was founded in Bogota, Colombia, as a college campus delivery company. Kiwi Campus, as it was first called, expanded into other countries across South America before reaching Silicon Valley. It was in 2017 when they launched their first robot pilot at the University of California, Berkeley after company founders realized that the model for humans doing deliveries “didn’t make sense in this economy in this country,” Rodriguez said. “So utilizing robots became the paramount point by which we built a delivery infrastructure.”
The robots can be activated by people on their phones just like placing an online order with participating restaurants. The robots are insulated and deliver the food right to your door – or as close as it can get to you.
The robots can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, but they are semi-autonomous. A software system monitored by a team in Colombia ensures the robots know where they should go and can reach their destination safely.
THE FUTURE OF DELIVERY
The future of delivery will likely come in many forms - from drones and EV trucks to roving robots like Kiwibot makes. But in any future scenario, the aim is for a delivery system that costs people less and is emission-free - thereby taking another step in building a sustainable, net-zero economy.
Kiwibot robots do both of these things by reducing food delivery costs by up to 65% and are electric, forgoing the gas emissions of gas-powered delivery vehicles. It has delivered food for restaurants like Dunkin Donuts, Subway, and Pizza Hut. The robots are now on nearly 30 college campuses worldwide with plans to continue expanding into South Florida. Kiwibot’s target market is also urban areas and densely populated urban areas, like Miami’s Brickell neighborhood.
The company is building a global footprint, including a presence in the Middle East, and also partnered with other food delivery companies such as Grubhub.
Today, there are over 150 employees worldwide with Rodriguez based in Miami where several investors are also located.
SIDEWALK MAPPING IN MIAMI
Kiwibot arrived in Miami during the pandemic. With universities shut down and students away from campus, the company quickly had to find a new business model to keep the business afloat.
They hit upon the idea of helping cities better plan their streets. Knight Foundation funded a research pilot program with three communities – one of them being Miami-Dade County – to learn about automated mobility technologies and to better understand the impact of robots on the right of way.
Through the Knight Autonomous Vehicle Initiative, Kiwibot founders realized that cities were looking for solutions to better understand sidewalk infrastructure for pedestrians and delivery robots roving cities too.
This is how Kiwibot robots began mapping out the sidewalks of Little Havana and Brickell to see how accessibility could be improved. In partnership with the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, the company found that having robots connected to the city by satellite maps was also a way for the city to use the robots for urban planning.
“I believe that once we reach critical mass with mapping not only us but all the other robot companies are going to start looking into this vertical,” Rodriguez said. “I think we will see more robots, we'll see more delivery, more accessibility.”
THE CUTE FACTOR
“Kiwibots are optimized for cuteness,” Rodriguez said. The robots are small – about the size of an average dog – and can carry different expressions on the front screen, such as heart-shaped eyes. There’s even an idle mode and the robot makes noises as if it’s sleeping and its eyes are shut.
“People might be three hours into a long lecture and going out and seeing a robot that is falling asleep creates empathy,” he said. “And that's the type of things that really make a difference.”
As Rodriguez described them, the voices that the robots make also help alert people with disabilities that there is a robot around.
AUTOMATING THE PHYSICAL WORLD
Delivery and city planning are just a start. Kiwibot is exploring other ways to use the robots. Soon, Rodriguez said we may see a Kiwibot with a robot arm that can also automate the pickup of deliveries (the robot arm can place the food into the robot case instead of a human before setting off for delivery), ensuring that they have completely automated deliveries end to end—or roving Kiwi dogs to assist with security or inspection.
“We can build public delivery networks,” Rodriguez added.
At its core, the aim is to create more efficient ways to get things to humans.
“It means that you will have the flexibility of the world coming to you, and that has a lot of value when you have limited mobility or you're busy studying for your exam or raising money for your startup or building something on your own,” he said.
Rodriguez said more robots and integrations are the future, and “always having the human at the center.”
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