It seemed inevitable with the era of the autonomous car, ideas like the Kiwibots emerged. Small ostensibly autonomous vehicles that were in charge of food distribution, thus posing an alternative to courier services such as Glovo, Deliveroo or Uber Eats where deliveries are carried out by human messengers through the bike.
Everything seemed fantastic until it has been discovered that these vehicles have little of self-employed: an investigation has discovered that in reality these robots are remotely controlled by operators in Colombia who charge $2 per hour for this work.
This startup, called Kiwi Campus, launched small robots that looked like small carts with four wheels and a storage compartment at the top for orders. The robots became a sensation in the surroundings of that university, where the activity of the autonomous vehicles began.
The people in charge of the Kiwibots have several videos on their website that show how these messenger robots work: theoretically, the magic is provided by a complex artificial vision system that is able to recognize obstacles and detect when they can cross the street or not.
What was not shown to us as indicated in the San Francisco Chronicle is that they are remotely controlled by human operators who use the GPS sensors and cameras of these robots to send orders to the robots every 5 or 10 seconds.
On Kiwi Campus, they have recognized that there is indeed a part of human remote control, but for them, their service is a “parallel autonomy” system. The robots also circulate at a very reduced speed that goes from 1.6 to 2.4 km/h, which makes Kiwi workers have to pick up food orders from restaurants and go to the Kiwibots points of Departure to put the foods in the storage compartments of the robots and then make deliveries.
The model is unique, but it has more secrets than it might seem and much less autonomy than the robots seemed to raise – each of them costs $ 2,500 – initially. The ideal benefits from the low cost of the workforce that controls them: the operators that handle them in Colombia charge $2 per hour, a much lower cost than installing, for example, LIDAR systems – which would be difficult to integrate into these robots.
Seriously, why do we let fraudsters extract private profits from public space based on their lies?