The University of California, Berkeley, lost a beloved member of their campus last week, when a delivery robot was engulfed in flames outside the student union.
There are about 100 Kiwibots in the university area. The courier rovers started delivering food to students about two years ago. The service seems to have been operating relatively smoothly until last Friday when a Kiwibot spontaneously combusted while on the job. Campus bystanders captured video and photos of the incident.
last one i swear pic.twitter.com/by53PJANiL
— (@brlohn) December 14, 2018
“Yeah, a Kiwibot just caught on fire randomly. Funny as fuck,” said the person filming the below video. “This is a fun thing to see on your last day of finals, huh kids?”
Kiwi addressed the incident in a blog post, saying it “takes full responsibility for our Kiwibots” and explaining what happened: “one of the batteries for our robot that was idling started smouldering [sic], eventually leading to some smoke and minor flames.”
The post states that someone extinguished the flames with a fire extinguisher. Soon the Berkeley Fire Department arrived and covered the toasted bot in firefighting foam.
Kiwi said its operations team attended to the robot as soon as it found out about the fire. The company then suspended services for all Kiwibots in operation and had all placed orders delivered by hand.
After an investigation, the company revealed “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 it has since incorporated software that monitors batteries.
so a delivery robot caught fire on berkeley's campus and students set up a candlelight vigil for it pic.twitter.com/alen7vF7Ho
— James Wenzel (@ratherbright) December 15, 2018
According to student newspaper the Daily Californian, students posting about the lost comrade on Facebook referred to it as a “hero” and a “legend.”