Kiwi announced today that its rover robots are now delivering groceries and other items in two areas in San Jose, CA. According to Kiwi, what’s special about this rollout is that the company has worked with the city itself to reduce deployment and maintenance issues associated with robots on the city’s sidewalks.
Starting today, a “team” of 25 robots will deliver in downtown and the Buena Vista neighborhoods in San Jose. Up to 120 companies will take part in the program.
Kiwi is also working with the city of San Jose to help manage the roaming robots. Kiwi Co-Founder and CEO Felipe Chávez called me last week that someone would have to notify the city if a robot got stuck or fail (or catches fire) and then notify the company that operates the robot. The company would then have to send someone out to deal with the problem, and the whole process could take a long time.
Chavez said what Kiwi did was basically hooked up to a city-wide system. All Kiwi robots are now displayed on a city dashboard. So if you accidentally stop and block a curb, the officers know exactly where it is and can alert Kiwi immediately.
As part of today’s announcement, Kiwi also announced that it is now partnering with Shopify and Ordermark. This allows companies and restaurants with accounts with one of these services to easily add Kiwis robots to their delivery schedules.
Robots have become a more common means of delivery in recent months. The pandemic has pushed restaurants and other businesses to adopt contactless delivery methods, which Kiwi offers. Users who order on their cell phones at participating restaurants will select robot delivery and use their cell phones to unlock the robot cargo bay when it arrives.
Additionally, robot delivery is only $ 3.99 per order that the restaurant can pass on to the consumer. Four dollars to get a burrito off your feet isn’t that bad, and there aren’t any onerous third-party commissions hacking further into the fringes of a restaurant (or adding that much to a customer’s bill).
With the pandemic still raging across the country and restaurants having to close again, robot delivery can also help keep restaurant sales going, bringing much-needed sales tax revenue to cities.
The bigger story here, however, could be how Kiwi turned and adapted. When we first looked at Kiwi, the company focused on deploying it on the college campus and created its own marketplace of restaurants that required the Kiwi app to be downloaded to use.
First and foremost, the colleges were closed, with the campus almost entirely eliminated as a route for delivery. Starship, which has had a number of high-profile college partnerships, needed a similar community pivot.
But Kiwi is a robotics company, so building robots and a convenience store was a huge undertaking. At the beginning of the year, the company switched to its current B2B model. Kiwi has also had a partnership with the Latin American delivery service Rappi since the beginning of this year. Chavez said Kiwi had 50 times more sales since it was shot than all of last year.
San Jose is just the beginning for Kiwi, as Chavez said the company has two more high-profile partnerships that he is yet to announce, and the company is currently building 500 robots. Kiwi will release them into “squads” of 25 in different locations, with two people managing and maintaining each squad.
Speaking of squad goals, whenever you see a Kiwi bot making a grocery delivery in San Jose, snap a picture and send it to us.