A NASA robot began smoking and then exploded earlier this year due to a faulty lithium-ion battery, marking the latest instance of this battery technology being, at times, less than stable. The affected robot was NASA’s RoboSimian, which had its old battery swapped out for a new one. The battery was charging at the time of the explosion. No one — except the robot, that is — were injured.
The incident was captured on camera, and fortunately happened while all humans were away. Per a safety-centric article posted by NASA, which now appears to have been pulled, researchers with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were preparing RoboSimian for a trip. This involved putting in a new li-ion battery to charge while the team went away to lunch.
During the charging process, the battery apparently began to overheat and was caught on camera venting smoke. That turned into an explosion and the resulting fire, completely destroying the robot. As it turns out, NASA found the explosion was equivalent to that of a stick of dynamite, meaning it could have been fatal if any humans were nearby.
Unfortunately, the lab did not have the right kind of fire extinguisher available to put out the fire. An intern called the fire department, which then took the robot outside and doused it with water.
According to a statement given to WIRED, the battery possibly had a damaged cell that provided incorrect information to the system that ensures the battery isn’t overcharged. This may have resulted in the battery being allowed to overcharge and the expected explosion that can cause.