A "KiwiBot" delivery robot went up in flames on the University of California's Berkeley campus - highlighting the risks of lithium polymer batteries that have become popular in gadgets from drones to e-scooters.

The robot was created by a company called Kiwi Campus - but apart from its name, the startup has no connection to New Zealand, product manager Jorge Vargas tells the Herald.

Instead, it was inspired by kiwifruit.

"It's our CEO's second favourite fruit," Vargas says.

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The chief executive in question is Columbian ex-pat Felipe Chavez Cortes, who runs Kiwi Campus from the "SkyDeck" business incubator that sits within UC Berkeley.

After starting trial operations earlier this year, his 30-strong startup now has around 100 of its robots making deliveries around campus and surrounding areas. Around 10,000 bot deliveries have been made so far.

"Robot" conjures up images of C3PO shuffling around, but Kiwis robots look like remote-controlled chilli bins on four-wheels.

Kiwi Campus's KiwiBot 2 delivery robot in action. Photo / Supplied.
Kiwi Campus's KiwiBot 2 delivery robot in action. Photo / Supplied.

In a concession to limited battery life, and the fact many people have limited patience for bots buzzing along the sidewalk, the Kiwi robots are only used for the last 300m of a delivery at this point. Most of the rest of the journey is via a semi-autonomous trike (a jumped-up electric bike that can be wrangled by a human).

A run of good press went up in smoke on Saturday NZT as a Kiwi caught fire during a delivery run on campus.

A bystander snuffed out the flames using a fire extinguisher. A fire crew then arrived and doused the Kiwi in foam to prevent re-ignition.

Kiwi Campus says the fire was the result of a good battery inadvertently being replaced by a defective one. It says it's put custom monitoring software in place to avoid it happening again.

The lithium-polymer or "LiPo" battery used by Kiwi's robots is also popular with drones and e-scooters (including those made by Ninebot, the Chinese brand that utterly dominates manufacturing under its own name, and for others. (Cellphones use lithium-ion batteries, though those can also suffer problems; ask Samsung).

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To avoid overheating, always make sure a charger has a good connection to a LiPo battery, don't charge in a confined space and don't over-charge (see more tips here).

The battery glitch aside, Kiwi Campus's boss says his company is on track to produce delivery robots that are cheaper than human couriers, with avoidance collision software to help them navigate footpaths.

One of Kiwi Campus's human-driven e-trikes, which take the KiwiBots on most of their journey. The bots negotiate the final 300m of a delivery themselves. Photo / Supplied.
One of Kiwi Campus's human-driven e-trikes, which take the KiwiBots on most of their journey. The bots negotiate the final 300m of a delivery themselves. Photo / Supplied.

And unlike human couriers, who are known to get close to a sonic boom as they ring a doorbell, drop a collect-later card then sprint to their van, the Kiwis trundle along at walking pace.

A KiwiBot's view of the world. Photo / Supplied.
A KiwiBot's view of the world. Photo / Supplied.