Anyone at the University of Maine campus has probably seen one of the food delivery service bots roaming around. The 15 Kiwibots take orders from UMaine Dining’s mobile app, Everyday, and are packed with food from the Bear’s Den.
While it’s common to see them moving around, it’s just as common to see them stopped in obstacle-free pathways. The robots tend to stop even when no one is in their way. While delivering food, one stopped on the path between the union and the library for over a minute—with no one in the path. Keep in mind, this is past 4:30 p.m. and there is much less foot traffic than during peak school hours, and yet they still experience a lot of starting and stopping.
Watching two bots deliver an order to Hart Hall, it became apparent that there isn’t only one route for them to take and there is variation to their movements. One may stop for a passing biker while another keeps moving. If too close to each other, the one in back will stop.
Also they may get caught in particularly uneven bits of the sidewalk. One did a small jump to get over a crack in the pavement, lifting up its front wheels to get over the obstacle.When leaving, one simply stayed put outside Hart while the other left, getting about two minutes of time between them. This second one had no trouble getting over the pavement crack that the first struggled with. They also took different routes back, with one choosing to cross over to the left side of the mall while the other stayed on the right.
Despite their apparent stopping and starting, they do make good time. The two bots headed to Hart Hall did so in under 10 minutes. The return trip was less speedy. The robots’ ability to navigate campus seems varied. The bot steered itself cleanly around a hole but then stopped dead center of the sidewalk for about three minutes without anything being near it. Not long after, when another bot drove past in the opposite direction, it stopped for another minute. The other bot kept going without a problem. While one of the two bots was back at the den, the other took an extra five minutes just trying to get past the mall walkway.
Students don’t have the utmost faith in the bots, despite the campus’ insistence that they’re well-equipped. In passing conversation, many students and professors doubt they will last through the Maine winter.
“When I watch them cross the street I feel like I’m going to see them get hit by a car,” said Max Keeler.
This lack of faith isn’t unfounded.
“One brake checked me. Like, completely clear sidewalk, it stopped right in front of me and I couldn’t stop in time,” said E.J. Flynn.
Besides being in the way, which they certainly can be, they stick out with their bright orange flags.
“I appreciate the ingenuity of using new technologies however their presence on walkways disrupts the tranquility of walking around campus. When going on a walk, you not only have to dodge your peers but also them,” said an anonymous student.
People around campus, even a few weeks in, look at them like novelties. Visitors will stop to view them in the middle of their walks, and students can often be seen purposefully standing in the robots’ way.
Despite the problems of the bots, many simply like seeing them around. The robots are designed to be cute, which they have seemingly succeeded in.
“They’re cute but they’re a waste of money,” said graduate student Brenda Jones.
The noises the bots make is likely completely unnecessary, said a student who has worked with robots. There’s no need for them to be loud in order to move around.
“When they make sad noises when they get stopped it’s very endearing,” said Kit Carpenter. “I want to pat its head.”
Speaking of noises, it’s been said that they will scream, or make a loud sound, if picked up by someone. The bots are claimed to have multiple security features to insure their safety, as well as that of the food being delivered. They come equipped with cameras to see what is going on around them, in case anyone cares to do more than just delay its momentum. Confirmation is needed in order to remove the food from them at the point of delivery.
While the Kiwibots are in use, as noticeable by their movement around campus, most don’t know who’s using them. Of the students interviewed, none had used the service bots. Most don’t even know others who have used them.
While the Kiwibots are still in the beginning stages of time on campus, it remains to be seen if their usage is only that of novelties or if they are providing the much-needed service they’re claimed to offer.