Manufacturing News

Fears of robots exaggerated after factory death, say experts

Artificial intelligence and automation experts have said that the death of a young worker in a Volkswagen factory should be recognised as both a rarity and an unfortunate accident.

University of Sussex’s Blay Whitby, an AI expert, likened the incident – where a technician was pushed against a metal plate while installing a robot in a cage last week – to a “machine operator being crushed because he didn’t use a safety guard.”

Professor Alan Winfield of Bristol Robotic Laboratory told the UK’s Financial Times that, “Unfortunately people have exaggerated fears about robots.”

Growth in sales of robots worldwide is sharp, as companies and countries – notably China, which purchased 56,000 industrial robots last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics – seek to remain competitive.

Last year 225,000 robots were sold globally, according to the IFR’s preliminary figures for 2014, up 27 per cent on 2013’s numbers.

The first recorded accidental death from an industrial robot was in 1979 at Ford Motor Company’s Flat Rock casting plant in Michigan, notes Wired.

First-generation industrial robots generally work within cages, as they are fast-moving and heavy.

There has been a trend in robot sales in recent years to invest in newer collaborative robots, which can work safely alongside human workers due to their light weight and force-sensing technology.

The 22-year-old Volkswagen technician was killed by a heavy industrial robot, which he was installing within its cage at the time, at a factory in Baunatal, Germany.

There is, on average, less than one death each year worldwide due to industrial robot accidents, reports FT.



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