With automation aiding so many industries, the day when even courier companies employ robots to deliver packages is seen by some as a potential future. One that isn’t coming soon, if the recent incident on the Berkeley campus of the University of California is any indication.
A “KiwiBot” delivery robot, named after the fruit, went up in flames on the university’s grounds. The robot was created by Kiwi Campus, operating from the SkyDeck business incubator located within UC Berkeley. The company started out with 30 robots delivering around the campus and the surrounding areas, now growing to 100 robots, with 100,000 successful deliveries.
The bot, which resemble remote chili bins with wheels, deliver the packages only on the last 300m of the delivery. Partly due to restrictions on battery life, and partly because having so many buzzing along on sidewalks would be disruptive. For most of the journey, a semi-autonomous trike, an electric vehicle that can be piloted and easily handled by a person, helps the bot make the journey.
Not only did a KiwiBot go up in smoke, it took the good press the company had as it caught fire during a delivery run in the campus. Fortunately, a bystander was on hand during the incident to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. A fire crew then came in and doused the KiwiBot in foam in order to stop it from going up in flames again.
Kiwi Campus states that the incident is because of a battery being accidentally replaced by a defective battery, and adds that they have already taken steps to avoid a repeat incident; in this case, custom monitoring software.The lithium-polymer battery used by Kiwi’s robots are the same kind commonly found in drones and e-scooters.
The incident is seen by Kiwi Campus’s boss as a minor hiccup, saying that the company is currently on track to make delivery robots that are cheaper than human couriers employed by courier companies, equipped with avoidance collision software in order to aid them in navigating footpaths. The Kiwi bots trundle along at a leisurely pace, and can stay around to wait for the customer to pick up their delivery.