Delivery Robot Catches Fire at UC Berkeley, Students Hold Candlelight Vigil

Delivery Robot Catches Fire at UC Berkeley, Students Hold Candlelight Vigil

It is entirely possible that robots will come for your job one day, but today is not that day. Instead of delivering food, a robot caught fire on the University of California Berkeley campus. Say what you will about human delivery drivers. They may be surly and less efficient, but they don’t catch fire.

The robot in question is known as a KiwiBot, one of a small fleet of robots that operate only in Berkeley. The robot comes from a startup called Kiwi, which blamed the blaze on human error. According to the company, someone mistakenly inserted a defective battery into the robot. It’s unclear if the battery was known to be defective. If not, it’s not really fair to blame the human. After all, the defective battery was probably manufactured by a robot.

The KiwiBot is intended to take care of the last 300 meters of food deliveries. A robot first takes the order from a restaurant to the street where a human bike courier picks it up. The courier takes it to a location near the destination where it’s loaded on the final robot. The droids make their way across Berkeley to complete the delivery. The service costs $3.80 — probably less than you’d tip a human. Kiwi launches in 2017 and says it has made about 10,000 deliveries as of May 2018 with an average delivery time of 27 minutes.

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

Kiwi says the defective battery cause “some smoke and minor flames.” Although, the bystander video seems to show the little cube-shaped robot engulfed in flames. Luckily, a passerby grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the robot out. Kiwi is investigating the incident but claims it carefully monitors the state of all its batteries. Even with testing, some lithium-ion batteries will fail. Just ask Samsung — it had to recall the Galaxy Note 7 a few years back after a series of fires caused by faulty batteries that caught fire. You can’t blame Kiwi too much for trying to minimize the incident. A backlash against delivery robots led San Francisco to restrict their use recently.

The robot’s charred corpse has been removed from the sidewalk, but students honor its memory. They’ve built a small shrine with candles and flowers. They’ll never forget the sacrifice that robot made to keep them fed during finals.

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