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In some ways, it might be a college student’s dream: the ability to get hot food on-campus without having to leave your dorm room on a cold winter night.
Over the past few weeks, University of Southern Maine students in Portland and Gorham have been getting used to that convenience thanks to 15 delivery robots.
They’re called Kiwibots and are part of a program set up by food management company, Sodexo.
The USM iteration of this system is the first in Maine but is similar to one that was rolled out earlier at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.
“We run it with an app that we have for the students,” explained Olivia Doucette, the Sodexo operations manager at the university, who noted that the system will not be replacing any jobs currently performed by humans but is rather meant to create new convenience for students at a time when finding service staff is difficult.
“They’re just an assistant, they’re just here to help us be successful in the needs of the students, not to replace anyone,” she said.
For students the robots are an attention-grabbing novelty, stopping not only them but their parents, even on rainy days.
“My mom actually came to campus and she texted me and was like ‘have you tried the little Kiwibots? They look like they’re really cute and would be really helpful,'” said Catie Briggs, a USM junior from Falmouth, Maine.
The convenience of having everything from a Starbucks latte to falafel from a food truck brought to your door by robot does come with a cost that venturing out on foot does not.
There are subscription packages to use the Kiwibots that run from $40 to $159 per semester for 15 to 70 trips.
There is an a la carte option that is $2 per food run but theirs is a 10% service fee added to that based on the cost of an order.
Briggs and her friend Abigail Ackor said they had no issue with the added expense because of the service’s time-saving qualities.
Other people at the Portland campus on Thursday thought the cost might push the limits of a student’s budget, even if the system has novelty.
“The price is a bit high for college students especially, but I feel like it’s a cool way to get your food,” said Leah Dunwoody, another USM junior from Chester, New Hampshire.
The robots will also be able to function through frigid Maine winters.
According to Doucette, there are “different wheels” that will be swapped onto them as temperatures drop so they can navigate snow.
There is also a good chance the school will expand its Kiwibot fleet over time.
Right now there are five of them in Portland and 10 in Gorham, but Sodexo and the university are looking at adding more as a new residence hall in Portland
University of Southern Maine Has Delivery Robots – NBC Boston
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