David Rodriguez's "High-Driving" Delivery Bots Are Here to Stay
Kiwibot Co-Founder talks ESG, mapping, and how robots can be good citizens
As one of the earlier startups to enter the autonomous sidewalk delivery space, Kiwibot knows a thing or two about zigging and zagging. That lets the company’s eye-catching hardware maneuver around obstacles, and also allows the team to respond to market conditions with innovative financial maneuvers. Company Co-Founder David Rodriguez joins me to share his thoughts on what comes next for his company, and the industry as a whole.
Jonah Bliss: Why don’t we start with some background; tell us a bit about the founding team, and what led you to create Kiwibot?
David Rodriguez: In 2014, my colleagues Felipe and Sergio founded an e-commerce grocery platform named ‘lulo’ to improve the consumer experience of grocery shopping and introduce an efficient alternative to the Colombian market in a time where online shopping wasn’t as widespread. This endeavor allowed them to learn about logistics, last mile, and ecommerce and grew to an interesting customer base, leading to an acquisition by Merqueo (Endeavor Entrepreneur).
In the meantime, I was in college, grew interested in ESG, and began working at Filantropico, a consulting firm that aims to help family-owned companies develop strategies for social and environmental impact initiatives and investment. Inspired by this, David launched a project in the university to help improve vulnerable communities’ access to books. Through working on this program he met Felipe and Sergio who were in the midst of their exit from lulo.
Kiwibot was founded in 2017 and launched its first pilot at the University of California-Berkeley campus. Our company aims to revolutionize food delivery with high-driving autonomous robots; we’ve already made over 200,000 deliveries on US university campuses and cities. The service lets customers launch last-mile deliveries at a fraction of the time and cost without the hassle of hiring a courier. With recent partnerships, including GrubHub, Kiwibot is committed to a zero-carbon future and aims to create a world where technology, logistics, and delivery are for all.
“The key to staying alive is to iterate and innovate.”
JB: Can you define “high-driving?”
DR: High-driving autonomation refers to level 4 of autonomous driving.
Today, our robots count on high-driving automation, with a system capable of being self-sufficient in most of its operations to reach the pre-established destination while solving problems in various scenarios: walking along the sidewalk, staying focused on the sidewalk, avoiding colliding with objects, people, animals; identifying street crossings, knowing if it is safe to cross; and crossing the street.
The Kiwibots can accomplish most of their tasks autonomously and only need supervision for very specific, high-risk moments. For us, safety always prevails over efficiency. When we carry out technology developments, we always take efficiency into account, but pedestrians’ safety is our priority.
Kiwibot's high-driving automation robots use a combination of sensors and artificial intelligence to navigate surroundings and obstacles. It also utilizes an advanced GPS navigation system with a high-tech satellite solution, to generate virtual maps and establish multiple routes that make it possible to reach a pre-defined goal.
JB: What do you think of the current moment, in terms of macro factors affecting delivery overall, and fundraising for hardware startups in particular?
DR: The Global Autonomous Last-Mile Delivery Market size was worth of USD 11.9bn in 2021, it is expected to reach USD 84.7bn in 2030, growing at a CAGR of 24.4% from 2021 to 2030. The key to staying alive is to iterate and innovate. Our latest milestone was a first-of-its-kind leasing program with kineo finance.
JB: Can you share a bit about your deployments, how many markets you’re in, if there’s a particular operating environment you’re focusing on?
DR: Our robots should strive to benefit the community and serve the greater good. From delivering, to mapping and advertising:
Delivery: a last-mile delivery solution for B2B partners, in which autonomous robots and a logistic suite solve restaurants’ and retailers’ main pain points. We have operations in 30 campuses across the U.S.
Mapping: Kiwibots map city areas and collect data from sidewalks infrastructure, traffic and consumers to encourage authorities to measure the quality of pedestrian sidewalks and speed up infrastructure improvements.
Advertising: Kiwibots are brand ambassadors that generate revenue from sampling and advertising while moving around a neighborhood.
JB: Are there markets, or partners, that have been particularly fruitful? Or any that have led to learning some key lessons?
DR: Our deal with Sodexo reflects our success. We closed out the year 2021 with three campuses, started 2022 with seven, and began this year with 30 campuses around the U.S.
JB: With regards to creating your robots, how does Kiwi approach creating its hardware? Do you think this differentiates the company from some of its peers?
DR: Our robot, which is in fact very adorable, is designed to have a very good relationship with the community, and citizens. Not just due to its eyes or exterior, but also its size. Our robot can fit alongside a wheelchair on most sidewalks in the U.S. When we design our robots and when we develop our software we take into account that these robots are going to live with other human beings, and that is our priority, a harmonious relationship between humans and robots.
JB: Do you have any thoughts on the regulatory environment for delivery robots? Any insights into overall market adoption?