An electric-powered robot (KiwiBot), used to deliver meals to the people at the University of California, suddenly caught fire recently. Thankfully the blaze was quickly extinguished by a passer-by according to local media reports. The firm that makes the small wheel-based machine, reported that nobody had been injured in the incident, believed to have been caused by a faulty battery. As a response to the fire, the company has temporarily retired its delivery robots from service until investigations have been concluded.
These delivery robots first appeared in Berkeley over the course of 2017. Anyone with a smartphone is able to order meals from nearby restaurants. The current fleet of 100 machines has already made more than 20,000 deliveries around the university campus and within the nearby area. The company was quick to take to social media to explain what it knew about the incident. It transpired that a battery inside one of its robots “started smouldering” which eventually lead to some smoke and minor flames. Due to the quick thinking and actions of a member of the community, the flames were rapidly extinguished using a nearby fire extinguisher. The whole incident was over in a matter of minutes.
The Berkeley Fire Department arrived to secure the scene before dousing the robot with foam to make sure that there was no risk of re-ignition. Following an examination of the wreckage, the company said that the fire occurred after a member of staff accidentally put a defective battery into the robot instead of a functioning one. In order to prevent similar incidents from happening again, the company confirmed that it had switched to using custom software designed to “rigorously monitor the state of each battery.”
The company was keen to point out that its machine wasn’t carrying an order when it went up in flames. KiwiBot said that Friday’s incident was the first of its kind, and that so far it has only experienced problems with a tiny fraction of its diminutive delivery robots; which also operate at the University of California, Los Angeles.
However, the incident is a troubling one for a fledgling industry that needs to keep local regulators onside when it comes to the rollout of autonomous robots like these. This type of robot are increasingly being used for delivering meals and other items as part of a solution for fast and efficient last-mile deliveries. Other makers focusing on the technology include Starship Technologies, which has been running various trials in recent years using its similarly designed robot, while Postmates just last week unveiled its own effort that will begin making deliveries to addresses within Los Angeles.