Delivery robot catches fire on UC Berkeley campus

A KiwiBot robot in action on the UC Berkelet campus.



One of the robots used to deliver food around the UC Berkeley campus caught fire Friday, an issue the company blamed on a faulty battery replacement.

The KiwiBot robot — one of more than 100 used to deliver food around the campus and city — caught fire Friday afternoon in front of the school’s student union, according to a report in the school’s student newspaper, The Californian. The fire was quickly extinguished by a passerby, KiwiBot said in a statement.

KiwiBot said it pulled all robots from operations from service while it investigated the incident.

“Immediately upon learning of the incident, our operations team was dispatched to attend to the robot,” the company said in a blog post. “At no time were customers or members of the public at risk.”

KiwiBot said the cause of the fire was determined to be human error, in which a functioning battery was replaced with a defective one during a routine battery replacement.

“This caused an exceedingly rare occurrence of the battery experiencing thermal runaway,” the company said, adding that it’s addressed the issue by installing software to monitor the state of the robots’ batteries.

The autonomous robots, once confined to sci-fi movies, have grown more popular for food delivery in recent years. Delivery services DoorDash and Postmates have partnered with robot maker Technologies on pilot programs.

A video of the incident uploaded to Facebook’s Overheard at UC Berkeley garnered more than 90 comments within an hour, The Daily Californian reported, with some students calling the robot a “hero” and calling for a moment of silence.

The Berkeley Fire Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.


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