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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Kiwibot brings food delivery to MU

Photo by Tim Lattau
Kiwibots start delivering food on campus Sept. 14.

Having a robot deliver food to you might sound like a futuristic experience, but at Marquette University that is happening soon — today, actually.

Kiwibots are the mini machines hitting the sidewalks on campus to deliver food to students and faculty. They are box-shaped robots that weigh 45 pounds, have four wheels, insulated compartments, bumpers, shock absorbers and LED screens to display eyes and messages and drive two miles per hour. They use a mixture of computer vision and GPS to drive autonomously.

Among the bobbing heads of students and faculty bustling to and from different buildings are the Kiwibots’ orange safety flags that are roughly four feet high. Until today, the bots have not been delivering food yet, but they have been mapping the campus and surveying food pickup locations.

Melanie Vianes, Marquette’s director of dining services, said that Sodexo Global, Marquette’s campus dining provider, partnered with Kiwibot to make getting food more convenient for community members and to compete with food delivery services like Uber Eats.

“This is going to give us an opportunity to kind of get into that market but also provide the convenience if someone is studying or a professor is working on a dissertation, they don’t have the time and they don’t mind waiting either because it would take them that amount of time to walk across campus, get a drink, and walk back,” Vianes said. “So during that time they can optimize it with what is most important to them.”

Kiwibot is a Colombian start-up company that was founded in 2017, and its first college campus partnership was with the University of California-Berkeley. All of Kiwibot’s partnerships are through Sodexo, and it is currently partnered with 26 campuses across the United States, like the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Endicott College and Morgan State University. 

“The first discussions with Kiwibots were back in March, really launching it and making a decision was in May, bringing Kiwibot on campus was in July,” Vianes said. “Anytime we bring any new technology anywhere, especially onto a campus this size, it’s going to take some time logistically.”

Five months later, robots are navigating campus and began taking orders today.

The Brew Alumni Memorial Union location, Erbert’s & Gerbert’s, the Annex and Torrey Hill Cafe are the locations that will initially be available to order from, though more may become available, according to Vianes.

Erbert & Gerbert’s is on the roster – good news for College of Communication sophomore Eden May.

“I think they’re pretty good options, I love Erbert and Gerbert’s for my sub,” May said. “(The pricing is) a little high but I could look around it and potentially use it.”

Orders are placed through the Everyday mobile app, which users place a subscription to after downloading. The prices are $40 for 15 deliveries, $109 for 45 and $159 for 70. Subscriptions expire at the end of each semester.

“I think it’s a little pricey. I’d rather just walk, personally,” Ellie Seidner, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said. 

Some think the Kiwibots will get more business in the winter months.

“When wintertime comes around, I don’t know how good the tires on the robot are, but I can definitely see a lot more use for it then,” Christopher Moore, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said.

Winter is just three months away, and Hitinder Singh, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, has some ideas if Marquette’s fleet of 15 robots need to combat the snow. 

“Put a bigger motor in it, put on some better tires, get a shovel to put on the front of it and it’ll be chilling in the winter. I think in the winter it’ll be used way more,” Singh said. “When it’s five degrees and dark outside at four or five p.m. (students) aren’t going to want to be going outside.”

Claire Cady, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, has some thoughts on making the Kiwibot service more appealing no matter what season it is.

“I think lowering the prices or just having it be a meal swipe or something that you could use once a week, that might encourage people to use it a little bit more,” Cady said.

Vianes believes that even before the Kiwibots make their delivery debut, the robots have already garnered significant attention.

“Getting it going will be pretty exciting because I know there’s a lot of hype around it and I know people are excited,” she said.

Some of that excitement might stem from their appearance and noises — somewhat like droids R2-D2 and BB-8 from “Star Wars.”

“It’s like their cuddly noises,” Vianes said. “They designed Kiwibots to be pretty cute, making all of the different faces. You can download different eyes for different programming. They have their own personalities which help create a community vibe when you see them across campus. You can’t help but want to stop and take a picture with it, it’s fun.”

Vianes is hopeful that the community vibe will lead to passersby helping the robots if they ever get stuck, in which case they will display a message on the screen that is usually their LED eyes.

“‘I need help if they’re stuck somewhere and they can’t move. People have been looking out for them a lot, though, so we’re hoping that the community will help them along a little bit,” Vianes said. “It’s kind of funny because over the years many people have said, ‘oh, that would be great if a robot could deliver me food.’ And you’re like, ‘yeah, OK, whatever.’ And so now to see a robot actually on campus, it’s not something that you think is actually going to happen. So now that we’re here, it is a big deal.”

This story was written by Timothy Littau. He can be reached at [email protected]

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