City Council seeks KiwiBot company input on food delivery question

·4 min read

May 10—JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville City Council says it's unsure about whether to allow robotic food delivery service KiwiBot to roam the streets of Jacksonville just yet.

At a regularly scheduled City Council meeting Monday, council members met with representatives of KiwiBot via video teleconference at the request of the company. The popular commodity on the Jacksonville State University campus requested the meeting as it had hoped to sway the council's decision on allowing KiwiBot to expand their service boundaries to the city of Jacksonville.

In the past, the council decided not to move forward with KiwiBot's proposal because there were too many liability issues, according to city spokesman Ben Nunnally. Though the council agreed to listen to what the company reps had to say, Monday night's City Council meeting got the robotic entity no closer to entering into a contract.

While the company showed maps of potential routes and statistics based on how well it performs in cities across the United States, the biggest concern the council had was with traffic and safety.

"How have you dealt with that in other cities?" asked City Council president Tony Taylor.

KiwiBot representatives responded by explaining that the robot is relatively small with five cameras around the body of it. With the five cameras and an internal pre-mapped area, the bot can see what's happening around the environment and configure itself accordingly.

"What's your liability insurance? How does that go and what does it cover," asked Councilman Terry Wilson.

Wilson went on to explain that if the bot causes a multiple vehicle accident, insurance coverage could get pretty hefty.

Once the conversation with KiwiBot's representatives completed, council members discussed the matter among themselves and invited Jacksonville police Chief Marcus Wood to the podium. Wood stated that he had spoken with the Alabama Department of Transportation on the matter and its opinion was that Jacksonville did not need any other concerning factors in its quest for pedestrian safety.

Jacksonville city, Jax State and ALDOT have worked closely together to improve pedestrian safety since the death of Leah Tarvin, a Jax State student who was struck and killed by a motorist while crossing Alabama 21 at a pedestrian crosswalk. ALDOT's view of adding KiwiBot to the mix, according to Wood, is that Jacksonville needs to get its pedestrian safety issues under control before adding another potentially hazardous factor. ALDOT has the authority to prevent the Kiwibot from crossing the state highway.

Upon hearing of ALDOT's view, Mayor Johnny Smith said, "I think that made it pretty clear" whether the city should allow the service to operate.

Councilman Andy Green pointed out that the sidewalks in many parts of the city aren't usable and couldn't support KiwiBot.

Still, Taylor said he would at least like to see what proposal KiwiBot would offer before making any formal vote.

Wilson joked "you don't think they would be interested in building an overpass?" referring to the city's longtime need for an above-the-road option for student crossing in the campus area.

In other news, the City Council approved the establishment and funding of a "Special Response Team" for the Jacksonville Police Department.

Wood told the council that the team would be a group of sworn police officers who are further trained in special incidents, allowing them to act quickly and effectively in situations such as a school shooting or bomb threat.

Taylor said during the work session prior to the vote that he had more of a comfort level with JPD's officers being trained rather than an outside agency coming from another city.

Wilson said he thought it would be "money well spent."

City building inspector Mark Williams addressed the council about problems with contractors not hauling away construction materials and debris. Williams said that when this happens, the city has to foot the bill.

A possible fine for residents leaving their trash cans by the road was also discussed. Williams said they regularly get complaints from neighbors about folks leaving their cans out after trash pickup day. However, the council did not vote on the matter.

Staff Writer Ashley Morrison: 256-236-1551. On Twitter: @AshMorrison1105.