Kiwi announced today that its rover robots are now delivering food and other items around two areas in San Jose, CA. According to Kiwi, what makes this rollout unique is that the company has partnered with the city itself to help mitigate deployment and maintenance issues that come with robots scurrying around city sidewalks.
Starting today, a “squad” of 25 robots will be making deliveries in the downtown area and Buena Vista neighborhoods of San Jose. As many as 120 businesses will be participating in the program.
Kiwi is also working with the city of San Jose to help with the management of the roaming robots. Kiwi Co-Founder and CEO, Felipe Chávez, told me by phone last week that previously, if a robot got stuck or broke down (or caught fire), someone would have to notify the city, which would then notify the company operating the robot. The company would then have to dispatch someone to take care of the issue, and the whole process could take a long time.
Chávez said what Kiwi has done is basically plugged into a citywide system. All of Kiwi’s robots are now displayed on a city dashboard so if one accidentally stops and blocks a curb, officials knows exactly where it is and can alert Kiwi right away.
As part of today’s announcement, Kiwi also said that it now has partnerships with Shopify and Ordermark. This allows businesses and restaurants with accounts with either of those services to easily add Kiwi’s robots to their delivery rosters.
Robots have become a more common means of delivery over the last few months. The pandemic has pushed restaurants and other businesses to adopt contactless delivery procedures, which Kiwi provides. Users order from participating restaurants on their phones select robot delivery and use their phones to unlock the robot cargo compartment when it arrives.
Additionally, robot delivery is just $3.99 per order, which the restaurant can pass on to the consumer. Four bucks to bring a burrito to your feet isn’t that bad, and there are no pesky third-party commissions eating further into a restaurant’s margins (or adding that much to a customer’s bill).
With the pandemic still raging across the country and restaurants being forced to close down again, robotic delivery can also help keep restaurant sales going, which provide much needed sales tax revenue for cities.
The bigger story here, however, might be how Kiwi has pivoted and adapted. When we first covered Kiwi, the company was focused college campus delivery, and was creating its own marketplace of restaurants that required downloading the Kiwi app to use.
But Kiwi is a robotics company, so building robots and a consumer marketplace was a big undertaking. So at the beginning of the year the company shifted to its current B2B model. Kiwi has also since the beginning of this year had a partnership with Latin American delivery service Rappi. Since pivoting, Chávez said Kiwi has booked 50 times more revenue than all of last year.
San Jose is just the beginning for Kiwi, as Chavez said that the company has two more high-profile partnerships that he can’t announce yet and the company is in the process of building 500 robots. Kiwi will release them in “squads” of 25 to different locations, with two humans managing and maintaining each squad.
Speaking of squad goals, if you see a Kiwi bot making a food delivery in San Jose, snap a pic and send it to us.