Stonehill College receiving food delivery robots

STONEHILL COLLEGE will receive 15 new Kiwibot food delivery robots for its campus. / COURTESY KIWIBOT
STONEHILL COLLEGE will receive 15 new Kiwibot food delivery robots for its campus. / COURTESY KIWIBOT

EASTON – Students at Stonehill College will have a new, unique way to get food access on campus without needing to make trips back and forth from the dining hall.

Kiwibot, an national robotic sidewalk delivery startup company that launched at the University of California Berkeley, will have 15 food delivery robots operating on the private campus. Kiwibot’s initiative is in partnership with food service company Sodexo to help expand Sodexo’s reach around the U.S.

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Stonehill is one of seven Massachusetts-based colleges and universities and first college based in Bristol County to receive Kiwibot robots through this initiative. Some colleges in the Boston area, including Endicott College, Merrimack College and Curry College, are also receiving Kiwibot robots. Stonehill last week had a soft rollout of the new technology.

Kathleen Fitzgerald, Sodexo’s general manager at Stonehill, told Providence Business News the idea for this food service stemmed from how food service on campus had changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fitzgerald said students had grown accustomed to regularly ordering to-go meals online without having to leave campus.

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Fitzgerald says Stonehill students were looking to have continued online meal service similar to GrubHub or Uber Eats, and the Kiwibot technology will provide students that option moving forward. So far, the college has received positive feedback from students, Fitzgerald said.

“They love it,” she said. “They think they’re cute. It’s very convenient. It’s definitely helping keep [the students] on campus.”

Kiwibot spokesperson Julian Echeverri told PBN the robots rely on high-driving automation, which can operate self-sufficiently in most outdoor conditions. The robots, he said, are also equipped camera sensors that, combined with artificial intelligence techniques, to avoid various obstacles and can move at the same pace as humans can while walking.

“They can stay focused on the sidewalks and avoiding collisions with objects or animals,” Echeverri said. “They can identify street crossings.”

To get food, Fitzgerald says students order food from Sodexo’s “Everyday” phone app. Then, Echeverri said the robots go to the restaurants or any Sodexo-related location that are listed on the Everyday app and the robots are filled with the food orders – each robot can hold up to 25 pounds. Students will then receive tracking information letting them know where the robot is, either in transit or when it has arrived to the students’ location, Echeverri said.

“With this new technology, it enhances the entire experience for students,” Echeverri said. “It saves people time from being in lines and just having food available so that they order it whenever they want on campus.”

Fitzgerald said it costs $2 per delivery, plus an additional charge based on what the actual meals are, very similar to GrubHub or Doordash. Students and faculty, Fitzgerald said can also pay for a subscription allowing several deliveries during a certain time period, as well. More robots could be deployed to the Stonehill campus if there is increased demand for their services, Echeverri said.

While Sodexo has agreements to operate food services in some Rhode Island-based colleges, it is unclear if Kiwibot robots will soon be seen on campuses in the Ocean State. However, Echeverri said Kiwibot is “super excited” to continue to expand its operations in the Northeast region of the U.S. He also hopes to see continued positive results from the deliveries on the Stonehill campus in the coming weeks.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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