On Monday a young man was killed by a robot he was installing in a Volkswagen factory in Baunatal Germany. Reports say the machine grabbed and smashed him as he was assembling the robot for a new electric motor production line
. (Below, robots construct Volkswagens in a German factory. )
This tragic accident violates the narrative that the business community has been peddling, that the robots are non-threatening and “help” humans in a machine-integrated workplace. A recent article laid out that viewpoint, including the topic of “collaborative robots” or “co-bots” which is a big argument from the automation enthusiasts for the transformation of the workplace from humans to machine run:
Robots rub shoulders with human buddies, Financial Times, March 19, 2015Meet Sawyer. It is the newest robot on the block designed to speed up automation in factories by taking on tasks that once relied on humans’ manual dexterity and good eyesight.The machine is one of two new “collaborative” robots, or co-bots, launched this week that are part of a new generation of affordable lightweight robots that are unlocking new markets and applications beyond automotive and semiconductor manufacturing, where robots have been a mainstay for decades.Robot companies have been rushing to develop co-bots, which can work side-by-side with employees rather than behind a safety cage, as they look to capitalise on a growing trend by manufacturers to turn to technology to compete amid rising wage costs and labour shortages. [. . .]
Sawyer, the robot mentioned above, was designed with animated eyes
that look at the task being performed to put the nearby humans at ease.Below, Sawyer is the one-armed robot on the left, while his larger predecessor Baxter on the right also has animated eyes.
Initial reports describe the killer robot as being inside a safety cage
, so it wasn’t a co-bot with cutesy eyeballs. Even so, the narrative of safe robots has been severely damaged.
It will be interesting to see how the professional robotizers handle this terrible death. The co-bots meme will have to be dialed back or redefined somehow. The accident is already being said to be due to “human error.”
But we can be assured that this death will not slow the march of business toward machines, forecast to put millions of Americans out of work in coming years
. We won’t be needing any immigrant workers in this country, that’s for sure.
Worker killed by robot at Volkswagen car factory, The Independent (UK), July 1, 2015The man died after he was pinned against a metal plate and crushedA worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany has died, after a robot grabbed him and crushed him against a metal plate.The 22-year-old man died in hospital following the tragic incident at a plant in Baunatal on Monday, around 100km north of Frankfurt.The victim was working as part of a team installing the robot when it grasped hold of him, according to the German car manufacturer.Volkswagen spokesman Heiko Hillwig told the Associated Press that officials believe that human error was to blame for the incident, rather than a problem with the robot.Prosecutors are now considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom, German news agency dpa reported.A spokeswoman from Volkswagen told The Independent: “Earlier this week a contractor was injured while installing some machinery in the Kassel factory.“He died later in hospital from his injuries and our thoughts are with his family.“We are of course carrying out a thorough investigation into the incident and cannot comment further at this time.”Such fatalities are rare as robots are generally kept behind safety gates to prevent contact with humans, however the worker was reportedly inside the safety cage when he was injured, according to the Financial Times.