A troop of new campus arrivals — diminutive, polite and helpful — are working to ease the need to visit a dining hall in pursuit of a warm meal.
They’re called Kiwibots.
In all, 15 of the semi-autonomous robots are working on campuses, 10 in Gorham and five in Portland, to deliver meals to people too busy or too occupied to walk to an on-campus dining hall or snack shop for their food.
USM became the first school in Maine to host the robots, which were developed by the Columbia-based company with help from scientists at the University of California, Berkeley. They’re now available on more than two dozen college campuses, including Brandies University, Endicotte College and Morgan State University.
“We are very excited about the partnership with Kiwibot,” said Tadd Stone, who oversees dining at USM as the area general manager for Sodexo. “This state of the art technology will allow our USM Community members to have access to food on demand by utilizing our new Everyday ordering app and having their meals conveniently delivered to the building they are in. This is a game changer for our University of Southern Maine Community.”
The robots, which are about the size of a carry-on suitcase, roll around campus with advanced technology and a semi-autonomous driving system. The robots create a virtual visualization of the world in real-time, using high-tech sensors, reflective flags, night lights, and a range lidar. If additional assistance is needed, human supervisors are on watch and on-site.
To make an order, one must first download the Sodexo’s Everyday app. From there, students, faculty or staff may order food and, if they wish, the delivery service. People may watch their food approach via an Uber-like map. The customer is given a one-time passcode which allows them to open the food container in the robot.
Funding for the Kiwibots comes from Sodexo and through a delivery charge. The standard rate is $2 plus 10 percent of the food order’s total. In addition, people may buy plans that offer 15 to 70 deliveries for a lower per-delivery cost.
“Kiwibots will bring joy to everyone on campus: This service allows students, faculty, and staff to not only invest their time more productively but also to merge into robotics,” said John Tarin, Head of Global Operations at Kiwibot.
The developers also promise that the robots will be unhindered by snow or rain, citing their success in Boston’s Brandies University.
“Kiwibots don’t have rain days or snow days,” Tarin said.
See more on USM’s Kiwibots online on WGME-TV.