A tech company called Kiwi has been using its delivery robots on the Berkeley University campus in Northern California to bring food to students all over the campus. The students are used to seeing the robots that move about the campus at a slow speed. The project has been going on for about two years without incident, until now.
Over the holidays, one of the robots caught fire spontaneously as it was on the way back to the control center. Luckily, the robot was outside on a concrete walkway when it burst into flames. The fire was captured by nearby students on their smartphones, and they quickly went viral. One fast-thinking unidentified student ran to get a fire extinguisher and was able to put out the fire before emergency response personnel arrived.
The BBC reported that this was the first incident of troubles on the Berkeley campus with these KiwiBot that have delivered over 10,000 meals in the past two years. Usually, they are safe and effective. They have become a regular part of campus food delivery.
Other troubles have occurred with robots. The BBC said that in 2017 a security robot in Washington, D.C., made by Knigthscope, accidentally went off-course, did not recognize steps submerged underwater, and fell into a water fountain. Onlookers thought it was a "robot suicide."
In another incident, a toddler was run over by a Knightscope robot while visiting a shopping mall in Silicon Valley in California. The child ran backward into the robot, hit it, and then fell down. The robot continued forward to run over the child, not recognizing there was an obstacle in its path. The toddler suffered a minor injury to one foot.
In all these cases, the robots were taken off-line and the entire fleet examined for defects. Once the technicians were satisfied that the robots were functioning correctly, they were put back into service. As for the one that caught fire in Berkeley, California, the cause was a defective battery. This problem was similar to the problem with some Samsung smartphones in the past, which had batteries that caught fire after overheating.
The problem with the Kiwibot was that one of the defective batteries was accidentally put back into a working robot when it should not have been used. The conclusion is that this problem was caused by "human error" and not any fault with the robot. In fact, the robot was holding position and not moving due to the overheating problem, when it caught fire.
No one was harmed in the incident and the robot carrier was empty, so nobody's meal was burnt up either. The Kiwi Company immediately took all the delivery robots out of service. It is now testing the battery problem and installed special software to see if the robot batteries overheat while being checked. In the meantime, the company has gone back to "old-school" delivery methods and is using people to make deliveries on the Berkeley campus while they check all the robots. The robots did not respond to any requests for comments.