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Kiwi’s food delivery bots are rolling out to 12 more colleges – TechCrunch

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If you’re a student at UC Berkeley, the diminutive rolling robots from Kiwi are probably a familiar sight by now, trundling along with a burrito inside to deliver to a dorm or apartment building. Now students at a dozen more campuses will be able to join this great, lazy future of robotic delivery as Kiwi expands to them with a clever student-run model.

Speaking recently at TechCrunch’s Robotics + AI Session at the Berkeley campus, Kiwi’s Felipe Chavez and Sasha Iatsenia discussed the success of their burgeoning business and the way they planned to take it national.

In case you’re not aware of the Kiwi model, it’s basically this: When you place an order online with a participating restaurant, you have the option of delivery via Kiwi. If you so choose, one of the company’s fleet of knee-high robots with insulated, locking storage compartments will swing by the place, your order is put within, and it brings it to your front door (or as close as it can reasonably get). You can even watch the last bit live from the robot’s perspective as it rolls up to your place.

The robots are what Kiwi calls “semi-autonomous.” This means that although they can navigate most sidewalks and avoid pedestrians, each has a human monitoring it and setting waypoints for it to follow, on average every five seconds. Iatsenia told me that they’d tried going full autonomous and that it worked… most of the time. But most of the time isn’t good enough for a commercial service, so they’ve got humans in the loop. They’re working on improving autonomy, but for now this is how it is.

That the robots are being controlled in some fashion by a team of people in Colombia (from where the co-founders hail) does take a considerable amount of the futurism out of this endeavor, but on reflection it’s kind of a natural evolution of the existing delivery infrastructure. After all, someone has to drive the car that brings you your food, as well. And in reality, most AI is operated or informed directly or indirectly by actual people.

That those drivers are in South America operating multiple vehicles at a time is a technological advance over your average delivery vehicle — though it must be said that there is an unsavory air of offshoring labor to save money on wages. That said, few people shed tears over the wages earned by the Chinese assemblers who put together our smartphones and laptops, or the garbage pickers who separate your poorly sorted recycling. The global labor economy is a complicated one, and the company is making jobs in the place it was at least partly born.

Whatever the method, Kiwi has traction: it’s done more than 35,000 deliveries at an increasing rate since it started two years ago (now up to over 10,000 per month) and the model seems to have proven itself. Customers are happy, they get stuff delivered more than ever once they get the app and there are fewer and fewer incidents where a robot is kicked over or, you know, catches on fire. Notably, the founders said onstage, the community has really adopted the little vehicles, and should one overturn or be otherwise interfered with, it’s often set on its way soon after by a passerby.

Iatsenia and Chavez think the model is ready to push out to other campuses, where a similar effort will have to take place — but rather than do it themselves by raising millions and hiring staff all over the country, they’re trusting the robotics-loving student groups at other universities to help out.

For a small and low-cash startup like Kiwi, it would be risky to overextend by taking on a major round and using that to scale up. They started as robotics enthusiasts looking to bring something like this to their campus, so why can’t they help others do the same?

So the team looked at dozens of universities, narrowing them down by factors important to robotic delivery: layout, density, commercial corridors, demographics and so on. Ultimately they arrived at the following list:

  • Northern Illinois University
  • University of Oklahoma
  • Purdue University
  • Texas A&M
  • Parsons
  • Cornell
  • East Tennessee State University
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Stanford
  • Harvard
  • NYU
  • Rutgers

What they’re doing is reaching out to robotics clubs and student groups at those colleges to see who wants to take partial ownership of Kiwi administration out there. Maintenance and deployment would still be handled by Berkeley students, but the student clubs would go through a certification process and then do the local work, like a capsized bot and on-site issues with customers and restaurants.

“We are exploring several options to work with students down the road, including rev share,” Iatsenia told me. “It depends on the campus.”

So far they’ve sent 40 robots to the 12 campuses listed and will be rolling out operations as the programs move forward on their own time. If you’re not one of the unis listed, don’t worry — if this goes the way Kiwi plans, it sounds like you can expect further expansion soon.

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Facebook’s next hardware product will be “smart” Ray-Ban glasses

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Enlarge / Don’t get too excited about how well these Ray-Bans go with Gitta Banko’s outfit—we don’t know what Facebook’s new smart glasses will look like, only that they’re made in partnership with the brand and its parent company.

In an earnings conference call on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors that the company’s next hardware launch will be “smart glasses” made in partnership with classic sunglasses vendor Ray-Ban.

Zuckerberg segued into the Ray-Ban announcement following a lengthy discussion of Facebook’s plans for Oculus Quest, its all-in-one virtual reality (VR) platform. Zuckerberg says that social media is the real “killer app” for VR, backing that up with data from Oculus Quest: “The most popular apps on Quest are social, which fits our original thesis [that] virtual reality will be a social platform.”

Zuckerberg intends the as yet unnamed smart glasses to be a stepping stone, not an end goal. He remained cagey about their actual purpose, saying only that the glasses “have their iconic form factor, and [let] you do some pretty neat things,” with no concrete details about what those “neat things” might be.

We do know that the glasses aren’t expected to have integrated display, thanks to reporting from The Verge on their initial announcement in September 2020. Without display capabilities, the Ray-Ban/Facebook glasses seem likely to fall in the same category as Amazon’s Echo Frames or Lucyd Lyte—a mostly normal-looking pair of sunglasses with integrated Bluetooth pairing and directional speakers that we reviewed in March.

Zuckerberg describes the smart glasses as a stepping stone toward not only virtual or augmented reality as we know it, but something he calls the metaverse. “So what is the metaverse? It’s a virtual environment [like] an embodied Internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at. And we believe that this is going to be the successor to the mobile Internet.”

After warning that building his vision will require significant investment not only from Facebook itself but from its entire ecosystem of partners, he doubled down on its eventual importance, saying, “In addition to being the next chapter of the Internet, the metaverse is also going to be the next chapter for us as a company.”

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Facebook set a new ad revenue record, despite Apple’s iOS privacy change

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Faebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

For months, Apple and Facebook waged a PR war (with threats of a legal one) over App Tracking Transparency, a change in recent versions of the iPhone’s iOS software that will often limit how advertising-focused apps and companies can monetize iPhone users.

Facebook’s original public predictions about App Tracking Transparency’s effect were apocalyptic. But even though App Tracking Transparency took effect during Facebook’s most recent quarter (Q2 of 2021) the company still posted huge ad revenue growth.

Facebook’s revenue, which is largely driven by the kinds of advertising that Apple’s iOS change undermines, grew 56 percent year-over-year in Q2, beating investor expectations. The company had 1.9 billion daily active users and 2.9 billion monthly active users. It earned $10.12 of revenue per user, on average.

This was the first earnings report Facebook has delivered on a quarter that should show any effects of App Tracking Transparency on the company’s bottom line. Fifty-six percent YOY growth certainly doesn’t look apocalyptic, but CFO David Wehner told investors to expect a less rosy story in the next quarter:

We continue to expect increased ad targeting headwinds in 2021 from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates, which we expect to have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter.

Data on user opt-in rates for tracking has varied quite a bit. Some firms put the figure at just 4 percent, but others place opt-in rates as high as around 30 percent. And it likely depends on the app in question. In any case, users who opt in are definitely not the majority; most users are declining to be tracked when prompted. And each user who does is worth a lot less money to Facebook, which makes much of its money leveraging each user’s data to charge advertisers money to microtarget them and other users with similar attributes.

While Facebook’s initial messaging around App Tracking Transparency was combative and dire, Zuckerberg began changing his tune recently. He began to argue that the change could even be good for Facebook in some ways.

As for today, Zuckerberg is dedicating much of his time to describing his vision for the “metaverse,” which he has identified as the new direction for the company. He has described this vision as a mixed reality layer on our lives whereby people can interact with and socialize with one another virtually in new ways, crossing geographic barriers as if they were simply walking from room to room.

But Apple executives have also outlined a somewhat similar longterm vision, albeit with a very different approach in mind. By forcing Facebook to play by different ad-targeting rules, Apple has strengthened its position against the social media company in any coming battle over a future mixed reality computing landscape.

But at least for this quarter, Facebook doesn’t look like it is suffering too badly from the wound.

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Google Play gets mandatory app privacy labels in April 2022

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In iOS 14, Apple added a “privacy” section to the app store, requiring app developers to list the data they collect and how they use it. Google—which was one of the biggest targets of Apple’s privacy nutrition labels and delayed app updates for months to avoid complying with the policy—is now aping the feature for Google Play.

Google posted a demo of what the Google Play “Data privacy & security” section will look like, and it contains everything you’d expect if you’ve looked at the App Store lately. There’s information on what data apps collect, whether or not the apps share the data with third parties, and how the data is stored. Developers can also explain what the data is used for and if data collection is required to use the app. The section also lists whether or not the collected data is encrypted, if the user can delete the data, and if the app follows Google’s “Families” policy (meaning all the usual COPPA stuff).

Google Play’s privacy section will be mandatory for all developers in April 2022, and starting in October, Google says developers can start populating information in the Google Play Console “for review.” Google also says that in April, all apps will need to supply a privacy policy, even if they don’t collect any data. Apps that don’t have an “approved” privacy section by April may have their app updates rejected or their app removed.

Google says, “Developers are responsible for providing accurate and complete information in their safety section.”

All of this information is basically just running on the honor system, and on iOS, developers have already been caught faking their privacy labels.

Listing image by Google Play

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