- An autonomous transport robot used for carrying food to hungry college students went up in flames on Friday at UC Berkeley.
- No students were injured during the incident.
- Kiwi – the company behind the food delivery robots – cited the same battery problem that plagued Galaxy Note 7 phones as the root cause of the combustion.
Berkeley university students witnessed a spectacular robo-death on Friday that may offer a peek of the future.
A four-wheled Kiwibot food delivery vehicle, one of roughly 100 such droids being tested on the university campus, spontaneously erupted into flames. The flaming bot was quickly extinguished thanks to a nearby witness armed with a fire extinguisher, and no one was injured in the incident.
But the droid’s fiery demise stoked fears about the unknown and unusual new hazards that await us as autonomous cars, drones and other species of robotic machines become more common.
So how did it happen?
According to Kiwi, the maker of the Kiwibot, the droid was felled by the same basic forces of chemistry that have destroyed smartphones and other electronic equipment: a defective battery.
“We learned that the root cause was human error when replacing the batteries, where a defective battery was put in place of a functioning one. This caused an exceedingly rare occurrence of the battery experiencing thermal runaway,” the company said in a blog post detailing the incident on Saturday.
If the term “thermal runway” sounds familiar that’s because it’s same problem that famously plagued the Galaxy Note 7 phone .
Problems with Kiwibots have so far affected 0.6% of the company’s fleet of robots, which have delivered thousands of burritos, smoothies and other meals since being set loose on Berkeley’s campus in 2017.
“To ensure this will not happen again, Kiwi has put in custom software that will rigorously monitor the state of each battery,” the company said. And Kiwi said it would introduce “industry-first initiatives” in the coming weeks to “fulfil the promise of being the global leader in safe, smart last mile logistics.”
In the meatime, if you see a rolling food delivery robot, you might want to give it a wide berth.
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