Robotic delivery service Kiwibot announced an expansion of its service to four new locations as part of a partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Kiwibot will deploy its delivery bots in San Jose, California; Miami-Dade County in Florida; Pittsburgh; and Detroit.
The Knight Foundation funds initiatives that aim to drive the future of people-centered smart cities.
"With more than 70 cities deploying pilots worldwide, autonomous vehicles and sidewalk delivery devices are set to be the most disruptive technologies of our time," said David Rodriguez, director of strategy and business operations at Kiwibot. "Our robotic infrastructure is steering the post-pandemic world, supporting small businesses and community initiatives, bringing green solutions for congestion, and solving delivery needs while promoting safe mobility for all."
The new services build on a pilot conducted in San Jose in 2020 in which Kiwibot's robots started delivering on the campus of the University of California-Berkeley in partnership with Shopify and Ordermark.
Each of the four new pilots will receive up to 10 robots with one human supervisor to make deliveries across various use cases, including small business deliveries, community kitchens working with vulnerable populations, and accessibility to library books and pharmacies. Other use cases have arisen from Kiwibot's Love Date Robots campaign, which fosters engagement and open interactions with the robots for the public, small businesses, and community organizations.
"People should always be at the center of how these new mobility solutions are being deployed, which is why we're thrilled to support collaborations with Kiwibot in San Jose, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Detroit that truly demonstrate the power of resident-informed strategies," said Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation's director for national strategy and technology innovation. "The application of digital technology during the pandemic to facilitate the movement of people and goods has helped shape how cities respond to unprecedented challenges."
Since June, Kiwibot's robots in the four cities have already traveled 1,455 miles, mapped 368 miles, and delivered 20,000 data points to city and county authorities. The company has made over 150,000 food deliveries and built more than 400 robots.
Last month, Kiwibot announced a partnership with food services company Sodexo to conduct robot deliveries of food at New Mexico State University, Loyola Marymount University in California, and Gonzaga University in Washington.
Kiwibot maps routes for the robots, ensuring they are able to traverse sidewalks and streets. Natalia Pinilla, head of hardware and manufacturing at Kiwibot, told Modern Shipper that while the company works to create ideal conditions, the bots have been tested in both rain and snow and performed well, but university campuses remain the ideal proving grounds.
University campuses "have really good infrastructure for the robots; you can find really good streets [and sidewalks]," she said, adding that the college population also tends to be accepting of the technology.
"We feel the support of the community. That's why we started with this kind of environment. But we've found that people really like the robots," Pinilla said. "People don't see the robot as some machine on my street. … It's really important that we have the community support because we are deploying this new technology."
The current Kiwibot is the fourth generation of design, Pinilla said, and the company continues to work with users to create the perfect solution.
"We know we need to keep making a better robot," she said. "We are looking for a solution for the next person."
The Kiwibot utilizes sensors, object detection, and lidar to navigate, although the current models are controlled by humans remotely at least part of the time. The goal is to eventually develop a fully autonomous Kiwibot.
In the expansion of the college trial, students are able to use their meal plans to take advantage of Kiwibot delivery through the local delivery app Bite+. Delivery fees are included in student meal plans. However, anyone with access to the app can use the service, with each delivery having a flat cost of $2, plus 10% of the order size.
Pinilla explained that users can track the Kiwibot through the app, receive notifications when it arrives, and use the app to send a code to the bot to open it to retrieve their items.
"We are looking for the robot to be part of the community so that the robot can do more than just giving an order," she said.