Delivery Robots Come to Santa Monica

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Kiwibot
Courtesy Kiwibot

If you live in Santa Monica, you can now have tacos and burritos delivered straight to your door via semi autonomous robot.

As part of its push to have hundreds of robots rolling down Los Angeles area sidewalks by the end of the year, Kiwibot is partnering with food delivery search engine app MealMe to make more restaurant deliveries available. So far, two have signed up but they hope this will be just the start.

"We want every restaurant in L.A. to give their customers the option to order delivery through MealMe and have their food delivered with a Kiwibot," said MealMe co-founder Matt Bouchner.

Bouchner said they chose to start in Santa Monica because of the city's Zero Emissions Delivery Zone, a partnership with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator to encourage cleaner transportation options such as robots, micro mobility and electric vehicles.

Amazon, FedEx, Starship and Uber are among the companies that have been testing small, electric delivery robots with the goal of reducing the costs of last-mile deliveries.

Kiwibot has made over 120,000 deliveries since 2017 at the University of California, Berkeley, University of Denver, and in San Jose, where it partnered with Shopify and Ordermark.

The company now views Los Angeles as its most important market.

"We trust L.A. to be the best new market for us because the food delivery habit is already there, and we feel backed to scale in an organized and socially responsible and sustainable manner," David Rodriguez, Kiwibot's head of business, told dot.LA last year.

The first restaurants in the partnership are Blue Plate Taco and Red O Restaurant, both touristy Mexicans eateries located on Ocean Avenue.

Kiwibot, based in San Jose, raised more than half $1 million in its latest crowdfunding campaign, to bring its fundraising total to over $3 million. MealMe hauled in $900,000 of seed funding in a deal led by Palm Drive Capital in February, according to Pitchbook data.

The companies' much bigger rival, Postmates, owned by Uber, has been testing a handful of delivery robots in West Hollywood since April. While those are accompanied by a human chaperone, the Kiwibot robots whizz down sidewalks all by themselves.

Bouchner said he is not concerned about robots navigating the often crowded area around the 3rd Street Promenade.

"The Kiwibots have obstacle detection and human monitoring at all times who make sure everything is going smoothly," he said.

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