Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST
By Leighah Beausoleil
Sodexo introduced a new delivery program this semester that uses robots to transport food across campus.
The company Kiwibot has formed a partnership with Sodexo to deploy over 500 robots across 26 college campuses in the United States, according to the Kiwibot website.
This semester, that number is closer to 30, according to Julian Echeeverri, a Kiwibot manager. He said the goal for the company’s partnership with Sodexo is to reach 100 campuses by the end of next semester, but he foresees the company reaching 60.
Though it is a U.S. company, Kiwibot was founded by a Colombian team in 2017 after they were accepted into UC Berkeley’s acceleration program, SKYDECK, according to Echeeverri.
According to Aretha Phillips, director of Dining Services, Framingham State students can download the Everyday app to order from Sodexo and the robots will then deliver the food.
The delivery time is estimated to be 25 minutes or less. The food compartment of the robot is insulated and consistently sanitized by employees, according to Echeeverri.
Students have the option to pay for delivery for each order, which is $2 with a 10% service fee, or opt for one of the offered subscriptions.
There are three subscription options: Silver is $40 per semester for 15 deliveries, Gold is $109 per semester for 45 deliveries, and Platinum is $159 per semester for 70 deliveries.
Phillips said the Kiwibot delivery fees are more affordable than current delivery services such as GrubHub.
As of Sept. 12, Framingham State is number one in the country for Kiwibot subscriptions with a total of 17 - 16 Silver subscriptions and one Gold. The college ranked second has a total of 11 subscriptions, according to Phillips.
Echeeverri said Sodexo plans to merge the Kiwibot subscriptions with meal plans in the future.
According to Echeeverri, Sodexo pre-paid for the program and aims to make up the cost through delivery subscriptions.
Given that Framingham State has 15 robots, he said Sodexo will have to sell approximately 370 Gold subscriptions to match the cost of having them on campus.
Echeeverri added Sodexo and Kiwibot hold monthly meetings to maintain an open dialogue between the two companies.
FSU students have the option of ordering from locations on campus, including resident dining, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sandellas, and the Rams’ Den Grille. There are also options that can only be purchased through the Kiwibot delivery service, which includes Pardon My Cheesesteak, Mariah Carey’s Cookies, and Mr. Beast Burgers.
Phillips said these additional options will change periodically throughout the year, adding Sodexo staff will be trained in the preparation of these new options.
“It seems to be going pretty good,” Phillips said. “I think it's going to be great for all the students, faculty, and staff that actually utilize it. I think it'll pick up especially on rainy days and snow days. I think that'll be a great convenience factor for everyone, so it's kind of exciting to have it on campus.”
She said the robots will still be able to function in a few inches of snow, adding it’s an “all terrain” machine.
The robots have seven cameras in total. Six on its exterior for mobility and one interior camera to ensure no one puts anything inside when picking up their delivery. These cameras live stream to a remote location, where Kiwibot employees can monitor the robots in situations such as crossing the street, according to Echeeverri.
The cameras do not record the surroundings, so no footage is collected by the robots, he said. The cameras use artificial intelligence sensors to identify faces, license plates, and addresses and blurs them in the live feedback for user protection and privacy.
This live video also does not include sound as the robots do not have the capacity to equip a microphone, Echeeverri said.
Framingham State has its own Kiwibot team that operates at the former Juice Bar inside the Athletic Center, according to Phillips.
The team is comprised of Jorge Bonilla, who handles operations, and Victor Castro, who handles maintenance. Both live off campus.
This team works to maintain and care for the robots on a day-to-day basis, including regular maintenance, A.I. testing to ensure the sensors are working, and assessment of safety features.
Echeeverri said the Kiwibot team at Framingham State hopes to hire student interns, both STEM and non-STEM majors, in the future to help with the robots.
He said the Kiwibots are covered under an “umbrella insurance” that provides protection for any damage that occurs to the robot or that the robot causes.
“We're really excited to be part of the campus and the community,” Echeeverri said. “We do actually try to merge with the community such as being a part of the events - being a part of sports events.
“The robots are brandable so we love to be part of say, Health Awareness Month or Cancer Awareness Month,” he added.
Phillips said, “I think it's great to have it on campus and I hope everyone appreciates it and gets to utilize it and I hope it's convenient for everyone.”
She added, “I think it's one of the most popular things that a lot of universities are starting to do now, so it was great to have it here on campus.”
Norah Louisville, a junior criminology major, said she did not realize Framingham State had the robots at first until she saw one “down the street.”
Louisville said she has been seeing them around college campuses, such as Bridgewater State University.
“They're everywhere,” she said of the robots at Bridgewater. “We literally cross with them. It's crazy.”
Ava Murphy, a senior biology major, said it was “weird” seeing the robots at first.
“I did not know what was happening,” Murphy said. “I didn't pay attention. I just saw a little robot roaming around.”
Though she is a commuter student and does not have a use for them, she said they are “really cool.”
Jaden Streeter, a freshman biology major, said, “I love them.
“I was walking through the courtyard, and I saw him - I fell in love,” she added.
“I was instantly like, ‘Oh, my god,’ he's smiling - his eyes are happy,” Streeter said. “My heart just warmed the second I saw him. I'm so happy we have them on campus.”