TECH CRIME: Robot kills man in Volkswagen factory

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TECH CRIME: Robot kills man in Volkswagen factory


POLICE authorities are leading an unusual investigation after a robot killed a contractor at a Volkswagen production plant in western Germany on Monday.

According to Inquirer.net, VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said that the 22-year-old worker was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, at the VW plant in Baunatal, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Frankfurt.

He said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame, rather than a problem with the robot, which can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process. He said it normally operates within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.

Another contractor was present when the incident occurred, but wasn’t harmed, Hillwig said. He declined to give any more details about the case, citing an ongoing investigation.


First of its kind

According to prosecutors, the accident is the first of its kind in Germany, wrote the Washington Post. Despite the increasing ubiquity of robots in manufacturing plants in Germany, they had not been involved in a workplace death — until now.

Nevertheless, robots seem to have been involved in several workplace accidents, as the New York Times reported last year. The paper referenced many lethal accidents in U.S. factories involving robots, dating to 2001, 2006, and 2011.

In Britain alone, authorities documented 77 robot-related accidents in 2005, according to the Economist. "Over the years people have been crushed, hit on the head, welded and even had molten aluminum poured over them by robots," the paper said.

German prosecutors said Wednesday that they are investigating the cause of the accident. "We will then decide whether to bring charges, and, if so, against whom," the prosecutor's office of the city of Kassel said in a statement.


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