Late last week, onlookers captured video and images of a Kiwi delivery robot moments after catching fire on the U.C. Berkeley campus. The startup has been piloting the robots on the University campus for around two years now (we profiled them back in May), largely without incident, but this is no doubt not how it wanted to gain national recognition.
Kiwi confirmed the incident in a blog post Saturday, working to minimize negative PR, noting that challenges “have impacted less than 0.6% of our robot fleet.” The challenge in this case apparently stemmed from the pint-sized delivery robot’s battery, which wasn’t replaced in time.
[Caution: dirty words above.]
The battery ignited with “some smoke and minor flames,” causing a student to grab a nearby fire extinguisher before the Berkeley Fire Department arrived to make sure that it wouldn’t reignite. Kiwi says it pulled all robots out of service as it investigated the issue, switching to hand delivery for food.
“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,” the company writes. “This caused an exceedingly rare occurrence of the battery experiencing thermal runaway.”
Kiwi adds that it’s putting a new battery review process in place to help avoid similar incidents in the future.