As spring approached, a small, rectangular robot began making its way up and down Cornell’s hills. This robot is a Kiwibot, which delivers food to college students on campus. First implemented at the University of California, Berkeley, Kiwibot is hoping to expand its services across the country to Cornell.
The robot that students saw roaming campus these past few weeks hasn’t actually been delivering food, according to David Rodriguez, Head of Business Development at Kiwi. Instead, it has roved the campus grounds to see student reactions and to explore the campus.
This test was designed to see if the student body would react positively and for the robot to try and move in different spaces, making sure that it could feasibly travel from one end of campus to another. Based on the tests so far, Rodriguez believes that Cornellians have responded enthusiastically.
“One of the things that is important for us is that we want to transition to be something that all the people approves of. We think it’s a really clever way of delivering food on campus,” Natalia Lopez-Barbosa grad, who is managing the Cornell operations, told The Sun in a phone interview. “We want people to have a warm feeling about what’s happening.”
But while the robot hasn’t faced issues moving around on campus yet, Rodriguez realized that the weather in Ithaca isn’t always April’s blue skies and mild temperatures. Having only been implemented in California, the robots have not been tested in extreme cold or snow. Rodriguez anticipates upgrading and developing the robots to be able to survive in different conditions. The company will have to wait until next fall to see how the robot withstands the weather, according to Lopez-Barbosa.
Lopez-Barbosa reached out to Rodriguez after he posted in Columbia Facebook group, which they both attended for their undergraduate degrees. Rodriguez was looking to test out expansion of the Kiwibot to Ivy League schools and was looking for help; Lopez-Barbosa thought Cornell could be a valuable market, especially considering the hilly landscape that would make robot delivery convenient.
Rodriguez is also planning on recruiting help from the same people that he hopes will use these services — students.
“Every single university that we go to will lead us to meet people that will want to work with us and the new robots will become better and better because we will be bringing in the best talent in the U.S. to bring the company together,” Rodriguez told The Sun.
The robots are semi-autonomous, with remote human monitoring in place to keep track of the robots as they deliver food. Rodriguez is looking for students to help maintain and improve the robots on campus.
Barbosa and Kiwi are hoping to work with Cornell Dining, so that after students order food on the Kiwi app, a Kiwibot would pick up and deliver the food from a Cornell eatery. Lopez-Barbosa also mentioned including local eateries in Collegetown.
These talks have yet to happen, but they plan to work with the university to implement and approve Kiwibots on campus. Lopez-Barbosa imagines that discussions with the university will take some time, making the full launch of Kiwibots unlikely until after fall 2019.
“When working with universities, there’s a lot of paperwork and they have to make sure that everything is safe,” Lopez-Barbosa told The Sun. “I think that the process might take longer … because of all the paperwork that has to happen.”
Nonetheless, the company plans on moving forward with integrating the robots into Cornell. In a year, Kiwibots may be roaming Ho Plaza and delivering food up and down the slope.