Human-guided burrito bots raise questions about the future of robo-delivery

A startup called Kiwi Campus created a popular food-delivering robot at UC Berkeley -- but it still requires lots of human hands to run.

June 3, 2019

Kiwibots — rolling robots that deliver burritos and smoothies — have become a fixture on UC Berkeley’s campus thanks to their creepy-cute “faces” and low delivery prices.

But while the robots appear to be autonomous, the San Francisco Chronicle reports they’re actually operated by remote workers in Colombia who make $2 an hour.

The bodies behind the bots

Kiwi Campus’ technology page shows several videos of Kiwibots using complex-looking computer vision to cross streets and identify obstacles.

But the site doesn’t show the remote workers who use GPS and cameras to send the robots instructions every 5-10 seconds.

Since Kiwibots also max out at 1.5 mph, they also rely on flesh-and-bone humans to pick up food in town and bring it to them on campus — where the bots, on average, transport the food only 200 meters.

Will the robots ever lose their human training wheels?

Kiwi Campus insists its robots are more than remote-control cars carrying Chipotle, calling its system “parallel autonomy.” 

But Kiwi’s business model would be strained without human hands — it’s cheaper to pay people $2/hour than build a cutting-edge Lidar system.

Many analysts are unconvinced autonomous delivery bots will ever be financially feasible — anywhere outside of controlled campuses, that is.

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