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Updated: August 28, 2023

In growing trend, robots will venture onto UMaine campus this fall

2 small robots on college campus Courtesy / UMaine Dining Food-delivery robots, called Kiwibots, will begin plying the University of Maine campus this fall.

A growing number of universities in Maine are adopting Kiwibots — semi-autonomous robots that deliver meals ordered on an app.

A year ago, the University of Southern Maine became the first school in Maine to deploy the Kiwibots — 10 on its Gorham campus and five along the grounds in Portland.

small robot inside with flag
Courtesy / University of Southern Maine
The Kiwibots, equipped with bright flags to improve their visibility, flash messages on their front screens to greet the people they encounter.

Southern Maine Community College followed in January.

Now UMaine students, faculty and staff can expect to see the bots at the Orono campus.

UMaine Dining is launching 15 food delivery Kiwibots in order to meet the student demand for food delivery services. 

The semiautonomous Kiwibots will navigate the campus using a camera and GPS system to deliver food ordered through UMaine Dining’s Everyday app.

UMaine users can sign up for Kiwibot subscription plans that cover a certain number of deliveries and include other perks like free birthday rewards, in-app discounts, waived delivery fees and loyalty points. Individual orders without a subscription will also be available. 

The Kiwibots will be scattered around campus, and when a call comes in for an order, the robot closest to the retail or residential location will be assigned to the delivery. Using the app, the recipient can track the robot’s journey until it arrives, at which time they can scan a QR code and open the robot to receive their food.

Friendly bots

“The robots themselves have really cool personalities,” said Tadd Stone, UMaine Dining resident district manager. “When they see each other they have different emojis that pop up on their eyeballs. If a Kiwibot gets in the way of the other way, it makes exclamation points.”

The Kiwibots will be customized with “skins” and special flags throughout the year for events, like UMaine Homecoming and Halloween. 

Stone said he and his team decided the Kiwibots were a good fit for UMaine after a listening campaign they conducted last year, when students said they were looking for more delivery options on campus. But the dining service couldn’t find enough student employees for delivery jobs. Despite an increase in student wages from $14.10 to $16, only 158 students could be found for about 300 open positions.

The robots have an average turnaround time of 25 minutes, including food preparation. 

Jonathan Warren, marketing manager at UMaine Dining, said the Kiwibots’ intelligent software improves navigation the longer the robots are on campus. 

If there are delivery mishaps — such as Kiwibots getting stuck in potholes or falling off curbs — the robots can send distress signals to an on-campus technician in the Memorial Union. The technician can manually direct the robots out of tricky situations or go to the scene for trickier ones. 

The robots are also able to protect themselves. They'll make a loud sound if they are tampered with, and can call the police and send a GPS signal if they're in trouble.

After the first year, the UMaine Dining team will evaluate the program and consider deploying additional robots.

Kiwibot was founded in 2017 in Berkeley, Calif. Today thousands of Kiwibot delivery robots are operating at over 35 locations and universities worldwide, according to the company’s website.

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August 28, 2023

It is the ultimate oxymoron to talk of robots as having "cool personalities.". Next you will be able to download new personalities courtesy of your local robot. What in the hell is the world coming to?

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