Delivery Robot Bursts Into Flames In California

A food delivery robot at  a California university campus caught fire and was destroyed due to what delivery firm KiwiBot called “human error”.

The robot was idling on the University of California at Berkeley campus on Friday afternoon when it began smoking, and then burst into flames.  A passerby used a fire extinguisher to put it out.

KiwiBot said the cause was a defective battery that had been installed by mistake.

“One of the batteries for our robot that was idling started smouldering, eventually leading to some smoke and minor flames,” the company stated. “A member of the community acted swiftly to extinguish the flames using a nearby fire extinguisher.”

Image credit: @briohn/Twitter


KiwiBot has operated its machines on the UC Berkeley campus since 2017 and has a fleet of 100 on the site.

The robots have delivered more than 10,000 meals.

After the fire the firm shut down all its robots and delivered orders that were in progress by hand.

The company said no members of the public were at risk and that it has now installed custom software to monitor the state of each battery, ensuring that the “rare occurrence” does not happen again.

Students posted images of the fire and its aftermath on social media and that evening a candlelight vigil was organised for the fallen robot.

Image credit: @brlohn/Twitter

Fire risk

Other robot mishaps have proven more serious than this one.

Earlier this month, for instance, an Amazon warehouse robot in New Jersey punctured a canister of bear repellent, injuring human workers.

Faulty battery issues are a more widespread problem, with airlines banning Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 in 2016 over fears the devices could catch fire during flight.

In recent years some airlines have banned the shipment of lithium-ion batteries on their planes due to fire risk.

Image credit: KiwiBot
Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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