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Industrial robot crushes man to death after confusing him for box of vegetables

The worker was crushed against a conveyor belt when the robot mistook him for a box of bell peppers. File Picture: Pixabay

The worker was crushed against a conveyor belt when the robot mistook him for a box of bell peppers. File Picture: Pixabay

Published Nov 13, 2023

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A South Korean robotics worker was crushed to death by an industrial robot after it failed to differentiate between the worker and a box of vegetables at an agriculture distribution centre located in South Gyeongsang Province.

It is believed the employee was in his forties and worked for a robotics company who was servicing the industrial robots installed at the plant.

According to South Korean news outlet, Yonhap, the accident at the factory complex occurred last week Tuesday, when the victim attempted to inspect the sensor operations of the lifting robot.

Reports say the test run was initially scheduled for November 6 but was delayed due to apparent problems with the robot's sensor - the same sensor of the robot that lead to the death of the worker.

It was then that the machine erroneously identified the man as a box of bell peppers. It lifted him into the air and crushed him against the conveyor belt.

According to reports, the worker survived the initial altercation but he died at hospital shortly afterwards. He succumbed to severe crush injuries to his head and chest.

The police vowed to launch a probe to establish the exact causes of the accident, and to investigate managers of the site for possible negligence.

The operator of the distribution centre, Donggoseong Export Agricultural Complex, said it will evaluate the incident as well. It called for the creation of “precise and safe” systems to keep the robots in check.

Is this the rise of killer robots?

While this gruesome case is in the spotlight, human deaths by robots go back as early as 1979. Reported to be the first human to be killed by a robot, 25-year-old factory worker Robert Nicholas Williams was struck and crushed by a transfer vehicle at the Ford Motor Company's Michigan Casting Centre. Similar to the incident in South Korea, it was believed to have been caused by erroneous readings.

Statistics say that between the years 1992 to 2017, there was a total of 41 robot-related deaths, of which 78% of the cases involved a robot or robot-controlled operation physically striking a human worker.

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