Back in June, after installing a new lithium-ion battery into its ape-inspired RoboSimian and plugging it into charge, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had their lunches cut short when the battery suddenly exploded in a spectacular fireball that completely torched the bot.
Lithium-ion battery fires have obviously been a big issue over the past few months after the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, but RoboSimian’s unfortunate meltdown was an extreme example of what can happen. Will your smartphone explode as violently as this bot did? No. The lithium-ion battery inside is comprised of just a single battery cell, whereas RoboSimian was packing 96 of them, resulting in a nasty chain reaction.
So what exactly went wrong here? NASA hasn’t released the final report of its investigation, but Wired spoke to Brett Kennedy, the head of the RoboSimian project, who suspects the battery had a damaged cell that resulted in it getting overcharged, which ultimately led to it overheating, catching fire, and quickly taking the rest of the battery with it.