New food delivery service Kiwi brings robots to campus


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A new online delivery service called Kiwi has come to UC Berkeley, making use of small wheeled robots to deliver food across campus.  

According to Felipe Chávez, Kiwi’s chief executive officer, Kiwi is an app that allows people to order food on demand, with one small difference — instead of humans, people will have robots coming to their front door. Chávez says this allows Kiwi to lower cost by decreasing delivery fees by as much as 80 percent.

Chávez said he thought of the idea when he ordered a pizza online and the delivery fee cost almost as much as the actual pizza. With Kiwi, Chávez said delivery doesn’t have to be like that.

“I think that it is really important that we help things in the city … become smarter and cheaper for everyone,” Chávez said.

The KiwiBot uses binocular computer vision to navigate the grounds around campus but is also aided by humans who take control if the robot needs help crossing the street or navigating busy areas. According to Chávez, Kiwi currently has 15 robots operating around campus every day.

Cade Johnson, a campus freshman, said he has seen KiwiBots around campus before, next to his building in Unit 2 and on Telegraph. While he applauds the inventiveness of the robots, he is concerned about what this might mean for minimum wage employees, who may have their jobs taken by these robots.

“I’m excited at the idea of something new and innovative like this on our campus, but I still have my reservations,” Johnson said.

Kiwi will be facing competition from similar delivery services in the Bay Area such as UberEATS and Postmates. Vikrum Aiyer, a spokesperson for Postmates, said the primary market distinction between Kiwi and Postmates is that Postmates offers a larger diversity of resources than Kiwi. For example, with Postmates one can not only order food, but also flowers, medicine and office supplies.

Chávez said Berkeley struck the Kiwi team as a good place for Kiwi because of the diversity of the people and the fact that the community is friendly to new technologies such as KiwiBots.

“This is not just a prototype,” Chávez said. “Just last week we delivered 500 orders.”

Chávez added that in his ideal world, Kiwi would have 1,000 robots operating in Berkeley but that this would also mean the company would need to hire more humans to power the robots. The company has already hired several “Kiwers” to make sure all the robots are operating successfully.

Kiwi is hoping to expand and offer internships as a way to become more involved in the Berkeley community, according to Chávez.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @K_Tinney.