LOS ANGELES — It might seem like science fiction, but a whole new generation of robots could soon be sharing the sidewalks with us.

Kiwibot and Tortoise are just two companies working to bring next-generation, self-guided, and remotely-operated robot delivery technologies to consumers who now have become accustomed to both same-day retail delivery and no-contact food delivery. 

What You Need To Know

  • Kiwibot and Tortoise are two companies developing robot delivery technologies in Southern California

  • The companies are partnering with cities to ensure a smooth roll-out of the robot “pedestrians”

  • The robots are either fully-automated by GPS or operated remotely by humans who can see and respond to the environment via cameras in the robot

  • The pandemic has hastened the adoption of these robots, which promise safe, secure and affordable delivery

Kiwibot’s head of business, David Rodriguez, explained that unlike the e-scooter boom, which jumped first and asked questions later, it's important for Kiwibot to roll out the tech slowly with the full participation of cities where deliveries will take place.

“We have to take the lessons from the past so that we can build the best long-term relationships,” said Rodriguez. “In a few words, we are creating the world's best pedestrian.”

The fully-automated, GPS-directed Kiwibots use tiny cameras to help them avoid obstacles and make it to your front door, with the food locked safely inside, and they have friendly digital "faces" help us to accept the robots. 

“So, essentially, by making cute robots that are not too big, we are triggering your small animal instinct, and this makes you accept the robot before you know what it actually is,” said Rodriguez as he demonstrated the Kiwibot at its testing grounds in the Warner Center.

When the Kiwibot arrives at your front door, you're alerted via the smartphone app and given a code to unlock the storage hatch, where your delivery awaits. Rodriguez added that the technology is scalable to any need and can serve a diversity of communities, many of whom are often left out of technological cycles.

“So, anyone with any delivery need will be able to have a Kiwibot,” he said. 

In West Los Angeles, Tortoise robots are already being deployed for grocery delivery by Kosher Express. The robots are operated remotely by humans, who can respond to the environment via cameras build into the robot. 

"What's really exciting for the public is you now have this affordable, contactless home delivery option because not everybody can afford to pay the 40% premium, you know, when you're using things like Instacart," said Tortoise president and co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko.

For neighborhoods like West L.A. where parking can be difficult, double-parked delivery trucks can create significant traffic congestion, but the slowly-paced Tortoise robots are safe and adaptable to many needs.

“The events of the last year have really pulled us into the mainstream,” said Shevelenko. “We were really fortunate to have had this technology ready when this market matured pretty much overnight.” 

Both Tortoise and Kiwibot sought the partnerships of local cities’ transportation departments to help the technology evolve smoothly. Kiwibot partnered with the L.A. Department of Transportation to monitor their robots’ movements through their MDS (Mobility Data Specification) framework, for instance.

“By putting robots in the loop, and by being deeply integrated with cities, to work with cities for the next 20, 30, 50 years, then it's good to start slow and have this foundation,” said Rodriguez.