Incident 24: Robot kills worker at German Volkswagen plant

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Anonymous. (2014-07-15) Incident Number 24. in McGregor, S. (ed.) Artificial Intelligence Incident Database. Responsible AI Collaborative.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
Report Count
Incident Date
Editors
24
27
2014-07-15
Sean McGregor

CSET Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Full Description

A 22-year-old worker at a Volkswagen plant was "crushed to death" by a robotic arm. The worker was inside the "safety cage", meant to separate humans from the machines, to install a piece of the robot when an arm struck him, pinning him to a metal plate. He was resuscitated, however he died later at the hospital. Volkswagen is citing human error as the cause of the accident.

Short Description

A Volkswagen plant robot "crushed to death" a worker by pinning him to a metal plate.

Severity

Severe

Harm Type

Harm to physical health/safety

Location

Baunatal, Germany

Named Entities

Volkswagen

Technology Purveyor

Volkswagen

Beginning Date

2015-06-24T07:00:00.000Z

Ending Date

2015-06-24T07:00:00.000Z

Near Miss

Harm caused

Intent

Accident

Lives Lost

Yes

Infrastructure Sectors

Critical manufacturing

Incidents Reports

A technician has died from injuries inflicted by a robot at a Volkswagen (vlkpy) plant near Kassel, Germany.

The technician was in the process of installing the robot with a colleague when he was struck in the chest by it and pressed against a metal plate, according to the Financial Times. The technician later died from the injuries.

Volkswagen keeps this type of robot in safety cages to prevent accidents like this one, but in this case, the technician was standing inside the cage to work on the installation. The other technician was outside the cage and was not harmed.

Volkswagen also uses new lightweight robots that work alongside workers at the plant, though the company emphasized to the Financial Times that this was not one of those robots. It also said that the robot did not have a technical defect.

Volkswagen announced last October that it was planning to replace some retiring Baby Boomers with robots which are much more cost effective, though the automotive industry has long turned to robotics for certain uses.

Prosecutors have already opened an investigation into the matter.

Worker killed by robot at VW plant

A 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 after the accident at a plant in Baunatal, 100km north of Frankfurt.

He was working as part of a team of contractors installing the robot when it grabbed him, according to the German car manufacturer.

Volkswagen's Heiko Hillwig said it seemed that human error was to blame.

He said the robot could be programmed to perform a range of assembly tasks.

But he stressed that the machine was not one of the new generation of lightweight collaborative robots that work side-by-side with workers on the production line and forgo safety cages.

It normally operated within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.

Another contractor was there when the accident happened but was not harmed.

Mr Hillwig declined to give any more details about the case, saying investigations were continuing.

German news agency dpa reported that prosecutors were now investigating and deciding who to prosecute.

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Man crushed to death by robot at car factory

The incident occurred on Monday as a Volkswagen factory in Baunatal, Hesse, when the 21-year-old man from another company was working on assembling the robot for a new electric motor production line.

When the robot started up, it grabbed the man and thrust him against a metal slab. The employee, from a company from Meissen in Saxony, suffered severe contusions in his chest area. He was resuscitated at the scene, but then died at the hospital.

Local newspaper Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA) reported that the man had been standing within the production area with the robot while others were standing in the outer area.

The robot had been the property of the Meissen-based firm for whom the man worked and the machine had not yet been handed over to Volkswagen, the car company told reporters.

Assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen

ChinaFotoPress/Getty A robot killed a factory worker at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, FT reports. The 21-year-old worker was installing the robot when it struck him in the chest, crushing him against a plate. He died after the incident.

Prosecutors are investigating the worker's death, but the internet has already begun to call it the first robot homicide.

A Volkswagen spokesman said this was not a robot that would work side by side with humans, and that it was meant to live in a safety cage — which the deceased worker was inside of during the installation, according to the FT report.

Twitter users were quick to point out that the name of the FT reporter, Sarah O'Connor, is remarkably similar to Sarah Connor, hero of the "Terminator" franchise. She was not amused by the barrage of tweets about "Skynet" and reminded them of the serious nature of the situation and that someone had died.

Twitter

The worker's death comes at a time when some are questioning the safety of robots. The Future of Life Institute (FLI) , funded in part by a $10 million donation from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, announced its plans to use $7 million to fund various projects aimed at controlling artificial intelligence. One project wants to help keep AI-powered weapons under "meaningful human control."

While the internet hysteria over this worker's death is heavily comprised of dark comedy, many, such as Musk and Bill Gates, share concerns that the technology of robots is outstripping our regulation of them.

Robot kills factory worker in Germany

Automaker Volkswagen says a robot has killed a contractor at one of its production plants in Germany.

A spokesman for VW says the man died Monday at the plant in Baunatal, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Frankfurt.

Heiko Hillwig said Wednesday the 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate.

Hillwig said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame, rather than a problem with the robot.

German news agency dpa reported that prosecutors were considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.

Robot kills man at Volkswagen plant in Germany

A robot crushed a worker at a Volkswagen production plant in Germany, the company said Wednesday.

A 22-year-old man was helping to put together the stationary robot that grabs and configures auto parts Monday when the machine grabbed and pushed him against a metal plate, the Associated Press reported. He later died from the injuries. Volkswagen did not release the man’s name.

A spokesperson for the car company told the Associated Press that the robot can be programmed for specific tasks and that the company believes the malfunction was due to human error.

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Though the company uses some lightweight robots to work on the production line next to humans, a spokesperson told the Financial Times that this was not one of those robots. The type of robot that crushed the employee is usually kept in a cage. The man was working on the robot inside the cage when he was grabbed.

Prosecutors are still deciding whether to bring charges and whom they would pursue.

[AP]

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

Robot Kills Man at Volkswagen Plant

A 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.

Such fatalities are rare as robots are generally kept behind cages to prevent contact with humans, however the worker was reportedly inside the safety cage when he was injured, according to the Financial Times.

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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.”

Worker killed by robot at Volkswagen car factory

A 22-year-old man was helping to put together the stationary robot that grabs and configures auto parts Monday when the machine grabbed and pushed him against a metal plate, the Associated Press reported. He later died from the injuries.

A spokesperson for the car company told the Associated Press that the robot can be programmed for specific tasks and that the company believes the malfunction was due to human error.

The type of robot that crushed the employee is usually kept in a cage. The man was working on the robot inside the cage when he was grabbed. Prosecutors are still deciding whether to bring charges and whom they would pursue.

Robot Kills Man at Volkswagen Plant…Human Error to Blame

A 22-year-old German worker has died after an accident involving a robot in a Volkswagen production plant in the town of Baunatal, approximately 100 km north of Frankfurt.

According to Heiko Hillwig, a spokesperson for the company, the contractor was in the process of installing the stationary robot “when it grabbed him and crushed him against a metal plate”. The technician was rushed to a nearby hospital but later died due to complications stemming from the injuries inflicted by the robot.

While human workers in the plant are ordinarily separated from production robots by cages for their own safety, it appears that in this instance, the victim was inside the cage with the robot when the accident occurred. A fellow team member outside the cage at the time was unharmed.

At present, little more is known about the exact details of the incident, which is being investigated by German authorities. Volkswagen is attributing the death to human error, maintaining that no technical malfunction occurred on the part of the robot, which incurred no damage during the accident.

The machine, which usually operates within confined areas and performs a variety of programmable tasks to assemble various car parts, does not ordinarily come into contact with human workers inside the plant, and appears to have been accidentally activated by the workers while they were engaged in setting it up.

Prosecutors are looking into the accident to decide whether charges should be brought against anybody involved, and due to the ongoing investigation, it’s unlikely that any further statements will be issued by the company until the outcomes of the investigation are known.

Last year, Volkswagen announced it would use its cost-effective robot workers to replace some retiring human employees and unveiled a new generation of light-weight robots deemed safe enough to work alongside humans directly (not the kind of machine involved in this accident).

The trend towards these more ‘people-like’ robots is occurring in all sorts of manufacturing and production industries, as technological developments give rise to machines that are capable of performing increasingly sophisticated tasks, with less emphasis on conveyor-belt-style repetition.

Nonetheless, this incident highlights the ongoing dangers of people working in the same environments as robotic machines, particularly as automation processes steadily take the place of jobs once performed by human workers.

Data released last year revealed industrial robots were responsible for at least 33 deaths in the US in the last 30 years. As we head into a more robotic future in the workplace and outside of it, here’s hoping the safeguards keep pace with the purely technological achievements.

Volkswagen Worker Grabbed And Killed by Robot in German Plant

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A contractor at a Volkswagen production plant in Germany has been killed by a robot who grabbed him and crushed him against a metal plate.

The 22-year-old man was a member of a team that was tasked with setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed him.

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A Volkswagen spokesperson told Associated Press that the initial conclusions had led the company to believe that it was human error that had caused the man's death, rather than a problem with the robot itself. The robot's job is to operate within a confined area, picking up auto parts and manipulating them. "A Volkswagen spokesman stressed that the robot was not one of the new generation of lightweight collaborative robots that work side-by-side with workers on the production line and forgo safety cages," says the Financial Times.

An investigation is currently underway, which will inform the decision of prosecutors as to whether they will pursue charges against the company.

The plant where the tragedy occurred was based in Baunatal, a town about 62 miles north of Frankfurt.

Robot kills worker at Volkswagen plant

A robot has killed a contractor at one of Volkswagen’s production plants in Germany, the automaker has said.

The 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, a VW spokesman said.

Read the full story at theguardian.com.

Robot kills worker at Volkswagen plant in Germany

Welding robots work at a Golf V assembly line at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, northern Germany, in this 2004 file picture. (Photo: FABIAN BIMMER, AP)

A Volkswagen worker was killed by a production robot Wednesday while on the job in Germany, according to the automaker.

The unidentified worker, 22, was installing a robot on the production line of a VW plant in Kassel, Germany, when a machine hit him in the chest, The Associated Press reported.

The robot then pinned him against a metal slab while he was working in a safety cage, says automaker officials. Attempted resuscitation was performed on the worker, who later died at the hospital.

VW spokesman Heiko Hillwing says the incident was likely caused by a human error, and not because of faulty programming in the robot. However, the incident is still currently under investigation.

Another worker was standing outside of the cage at the time of the incident, but he was unharmed.

Automakers use dozens of robots at a typically assembly plant to perform a wide variety of tasks. They can range from welding to installing parts to painting.

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Robot hits, kills Volkswagen worker

A 22-year-old contractor has been killed at a Volkswagen factor in Germany after a stationary robot he was helping to set up grabbed and crushed him to death against a metal plate.

VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig confirmed the man died on Monday at the plant in Baunatal, about 100 kilometres north of Frankfurt.

Robots put together a car at a Toyota factory in Australia. Credit:Paul Rovere

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 car parts and manipulating them.

Robot kills man at Volkswagen plant in Germany

A technician has been killed by a robot in an accident at a Volkswagen plant near Kassel, Germany, reports the Financial Times.

According to the report, “a 21 year old external contractor was installing the robot together with a colleague when he was struck in the chest by the robot and pressed against a metal plate.” The technician, who has not been identified, later died of his injuries.

A Volkswagen spokesperson “stressed” to the Financial Times that this wasn’t a collaborative robot outside a safety cage that works alongside the other workers. This robot was inside a safety cage at the time of the accident. However, the technician was inside the safety cage at the time of the accident. The second worker was outside the cage and wasn’t harmed.

According to the local newspaper Hessische/Niedersachsische Allgemeine, the robot was being installed for a new electric motor production line.

According to the Financial Times, prosecutors are already investigating the incident. Volkswagen said the robot didn’t malfunction.

The automotive industry has been using robots in some capacity for quite some time, and in October 2014 Volkswagen said it would turn more to robots to help fix its shortage of new workers caused by retiring baby boomers.

This story is still developing, we’ll update with more details as they become available.

Robot Kills Worker in Volkswagen Factory Accident

A 22-year-old worker in a Volkswagen assembly plant in Germany died Monday when a robot killed him.

The man was inside a metal cage setting up the stationary robot when it reached out and grabbed him, crushing him against a metal plate.

Another man was inside the cage when it happened, but was not hurt, AP reported. Investigators believe the accident was the result of human error. The robot’s job is to reach out and grab parts for assembly. Prosecutors are trying to determine if charges will be brought, and against whom.

The factory did not release the man’s name.

The internet, as usual, lit up with jokes about the death being the beginning of the robot war. One Twitter user, Sarah O’Connor, received a barrage of attention after she tweeted a link to the story.

O’Connor is a reporter with Financial Times. Her name is very similar to the female protagonist in the Terminator movies, Sara Connor, whose son is tasked with saving the world from the evil robot empire, Skynet.

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Robot kills man at VW plant, then this happened

Contractor was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate at the plant in Baunatal

This article is more than 3 years old

This article is more than 3 years old

A robot has killed a contractor at one of Volkswagen’s production plants in Germany, the automaker has said.

The man died on Monday at the plant in Baunatal, about 100km (62 miles) north of Frankfurt, VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said.

The 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, Hillwig said.

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 was not harmed, Hillwig said. He declined to give any more details about the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

German news agency DPA reported that prosecutors were considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.

Robot kills worker at Volkswagen plant in Germany

A 22 year old man was yesterday killed by a robot at a Volkswagen plant in Baunatal, Germany.

Wire services report that the man was crushed against a metal plate by the robot.

The FT says VW has stated the robot did not suffer a technical defect, but that the deceased worker entered the protective cage in which the machine sits.

The Associated Press' report on the incident quotes Volkswagen spokesperson Heiko Hillwig as saying initial investigations suggest operator error was likely the cause of the fatality.

There's therefore no apparent reason to consider this as anything other than a tragic industrial accident. So don't start with the Skynet, okay? ®

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Rise of the Machines: ROBOT KILLS MAN at Volkswagen plant

The 22-year-old worker died from injuries he sustained when he was trapped by a robotic arm and crushed against a metal plate.

The man, who has not been named, was part of a team that was setting up the automated machinery at the factory in Kassel, north of Frankfurt, according to Volkswagen.

The robot in question is a mechanical arm that moves car parts into place, said Heiko Hillwig, a spokesman for the company.

Robots weld a car body at the Audi/Volkswagen AG plant in Ingolstadt in 2010 Picture: Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

It is part of an automated assembly line that is capable of functioning without a human operator, but it is believed it may have been under human control at the time of the accident.

Mr Hillwig said he could not provide any further details as the case is now under police investigation.

Initial reports suggested human error may have been to blame, rather than a problem with the machine.

But the state prosecutor’s office in Kassel said that had not yet been confirmed.

“We have begun an investigation to find out exactly what happened and to determine whether anybody was at fault,” said Dr Götz Wied, a spokesman.

The contractor is believed to have died from injuries caused when his chest was crushed by the robot arm. He was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

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Another contractor is believed to have been present at the time of the accident, but was uninjured.

“Earlier this week a 22-year-old contractor was injured while installing some machinery in the Kassel factory,” Volkswagen said in a statement.

“He died later in hospital from his injuries and our thoughts are with his family.

“We are if course carrying out a thorough investigation into the incident and cannot comment further at this time.”

Robots have caused at least 26 workplace deaths in the US alone in the past 30 years, according to government data.

The first recorded robot-related death took place in 1971, at a Ford car production line in Michigan.

Robert Williams, an assembly line worker, was killed when a robot arm slammed into him as he was gathering parts in a storage facility.

The second known case was in Japan in 1981, when Kenji Urada, an engineer at a Kawasaki factory, was pushed into a grinding machine by a broken robot he was working on.

It later emerged he had failed to turn off the robot completely.

Robot kills man at Volkswagen plant in Germany

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Robot kills man at German Volkswagen plant

Story highlights State prosecutor's office confirms the death

Local media report the robot gripped the worker, who was installing it

(CNN) An automotive assembly line robot killed a worker at a car factory in Germany this week, a prosecutor's office said.

The man, 21, was installing the robot at a Volkswagen assembly line on Tuesday in Baunatal, which lies next to the city of Kassel, local newspaper the Hessische Niedersaechsische Allgemeine reported, citing a VW spokesman. The robot gripped and pressed him up against a metal plate, crushing his chest.

Despite efforts to revive him, the worker, an employee of a third-party vendor, died at a hospital, the paper reported.

As a matter of procedure necessary to have the body released in cases of non-natural death, the state prosecutor's office said it is investigating to rule out any criminal culpability.

Volkswagen did not respond to calls for comment Thursday.

Car assembly line robot kills worker in Germany

A rogue robot has killed a technician at a car factory in an accident with chilling overtones of a science fiction movie.

The 22-year-old man was picked up and crushed by an automated arm while working on the production line.

The incident, at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, is believed to be the first death in Europe caused by an industrial robot. But experts were quick to dispel any ideas that the tragedy could be seen as the darker side of science fiction becoming reality.

A robot has killed a contractor at one of Volkswagen's production plants in Germany (file picture)

They insisted the death was a result of human error and not any malfunction on the part of the robot.

The man who died was a contract worker at the car plant in Baunatal, near Kassel, central Germany, where 15,000 people are employed assembling gearboxes and other vehicle parts.

He was installing a computer-operated production line for electronic motors.

The robotic arm intended to lift machine parts seems to have grabbed him and crushed him against a large metal plate. The man, from a firm based in Meissen, eastern Germany, suffered severe injuries to his chest in the incident on Monday. He was resuscitated at the scene, but died from his injuries in hospital. A second contractor present during the incident was unharmed.

VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said initial conclusions indicated human error was to blame rather than a malfunction 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.'

VW, which is one of the most automated carmakers in the world, said the robot involved was owned by the contractors. Prosecutors are considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.

The man died at a production plant in Baunatal, about 62 miles (100km) north of Frankfurt in central Germany, according to VW (file picture)

Deaths caused by robots are highly unusual. The first is thought to have occurred in 1979, when a worker died after being struck in the head by the arm of a one-ton production-line robot at a Ford plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, US.

Two years later, a man was killed as he tried to fix a robot at a Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant in Japan. He failed to turn it off properly – and its hydraulic arm pushed him into a grinding machine.

The prospect of robots turning on their human masters has long been portrayed in science fiction, such as in the 2004 film I, Robot. But experts said the robot involved in Monday's tragedy could not be held responsible.

Dr Blay Whitby, lecturer in artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex, said: 'It's important to understand that with present technology we cannot 'blame' the robot.

'They are not yet at a level where their decision-making allows us to treat them as blameworthy. This unfortunate accident is technically and morally comparable to a machine operator being crushed because he didn't use the safety guard.'

Robot kills man at Volkswagen plant in Frankfurt, Germany

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July 2, 2015, 2:43 AM GMT / Updated July 2, 2015, 3:28 AM GMT By Alex Johnson

Prosecutors are investigating the death of a worker who was crushed by a robotic system he was setting up at a Volkswagen plant in the Kassel district of Germany, authorities and VW said Wednesday.

Heiko Hillwig, a VW spokesman, told the local newspaper Hessische Niedersächsische Allgemeine that the man — who worked for a contractor and was identified only as being from the German state of Saxony — was killed Monday at a plant in the town of Baunatal, north of Frankfurt, where VW is starting a new production line for electric motors.

CNBC: Global Industrial Robot Sales Rose 27 Percent in 2014

The robot grabbed the man and pressed him against a metal plate, crushing his chest, Hillwig said. The man was resuscitated but died a short time later at a hospital, he said.

The Volkswagen production facility in Kassel is the company's second-largest. Volkswagen Media

The Kassel regional prosecutor's office said it's investigating whether negligence may have been involved and, if so, who was culpable. The contractor, not VW, operated the facility.

"Then we'll see if — and if so, against whom — charges are to be made," a spokesman for the prosecutor's office told the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Hillwig said all contractors are required to adhere to VW's workplace safety regulations.

Robot Crushes Contractor to Death at VW Motor Plant in Germany

A 22-year-old contract worker died last week after being crushed by a stationary robot at Volkswagen's Baunatal plant north of Frankfurt.

Media reports of the accident said the man was "killed by a robot", although a spokesman for the automaker said it was more likely that human error was to blame. He said the robot normally operated within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.

The Guardian's report on the case ended with the sentence: "German news agency DPA reported that prosecutors were considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom."

Commenting on the case the director of the Centre for Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, Ron Chrisley, predicted that accidents such as this would become more common as the use of robots in the workplace increased.

But he added: "Although there is a sense in which it is legitimate to refer to this as a case of 'Robot kills worker' as some reports have done, it would be misleading, verging on irresponsible to do so." This was because the robots now in use in factories were not autonomous or responsible for their actions, he said. Therefore they can only kill "in the sense that a hurricane can kill".

Blay Whitby, a lecturer in artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex agreed but added: "It is important for journalists to take an interest in this sort of event because in an increasingly automated world where we delegate more and more decision-making to machines of various sorts there should be much more public awareness of the technology and public scrutiny of the ethical issues involved."

Read more on robot ethics from Cosmos: Learning to live with robots

Man dies in robot accident at Volkswagen. Who is responsible?

A robot has crushed a man to death at a Volkswagen production plant in Germany. The company confirmed the death on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old German worker was a technician installing a stationary robot, which is programmed to complete a series of tasks in the assembly process by grabbing parts and manipulating them. The incident occurred at the factory in Baunatal, which assembles car components for other plants.

The robot grabbed and crushed the technician against a metal plate. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but later died of his injuries. Volkswagen has not released the man’s name.

But before you start believing this is an early sign of an impending robot apocalypse, Volkswagen spokesman Heiko Hillwig suggests that human error was to blame rather than a ‘rogue’ robot, the Associated Press reports. Workers in the plant are usually separated from the robots, which operate within a confined area, but in this instance, the victim was working on the robot inside the cage when he was attacked. Another worker who was present during the accident was not harmed, Hillwig said.

Currently, there isn’t a lot of information available on the details of the case, but it is being investigated by German authorities. The other worker who witnessed the incident has declined to give further details about the case while the investigation is ongoing. Prosecutors, who are looking into how the accident occurred, have yet to decide whether charges will be brought against anyone involved.

Robot Kills Worker at Volkswagen Plant in Germany

If you grew up in the U.S., you’ve probably seen at least one episode of The Jetsons, a cartoon from the 1960s depicting a 21st-century futuristic society with push-button meals, floating cities, and a robot named Rosie.

In the episode titled Rip-Off Rosie, George Jetson fixes the fried memory chips of a robot called Robotto and earns himself a raise and a day off. He takes the faulty part home to show his family, and his robot maid Rosie accidentally eats it, mistaking it for candy. The faulty part makes Rosie go crazy. Her demeanor gets menacing, her eyes pop out, and she uncontrollably destroys everything in the house.

This scene may have been crafted by the creators of a children’s cartoon, but today, destructive robots are not a made-up scenario. Not only are robots taking over our jobs, but they might soon dominate our strength as a species.

Robots sometimes take human lives

Everyone loves a good bot battle in a virtual environment, but put a robot up against a human and it’s an unfair fight.

Like Rosie the robot, all it takes is a glitch or an oversight for a robot to become deadly. Although they’re programmed using the best in AI technology, it’s impossible to program empathy into a robot. Like Data from Star Trek, a robot can learn, but it can’t feel.

Perhaps if robots were isolated, the danger would be less. However, these robots often work alongside humans in factories, and they have caused many injuries and deaths.

In 1981, a motorcycle factory worker named Kenji Urada was killed by an AI robot working nearby. For some reason, the robot identified him as a threat and pushed him into a machine. The robot used its hydraulic arm to smash the worker which killed him instantly, and returned to perform its job duties.

In 2015, a 22-year-old man working at a Volkswagen plant in Germany was killed by the robot he was assembling. He was putting together the robot that grabs and assembles various automobile parts when the robot grabbed him and slammed him up against a metal plate. The man died from his injuries.

Also in 2015, Ramji Lal was killed at Haryana’s Manesar factory in India when he approached a robot from behind. He adjusted a piece of sheet metal carried by the robot, and was pierced by welding sticks attached to its arm. Coworkers claim his mistake was approaching from behind instead of the front, but the fact that it happened at all is cause for concern.

Who is responsible when robots kill?

When a robot kills, who can be held accountable? Is it considered murder? Is it reckless homicide? According to criminal law expert Rowdy Williams, murder is defined as “knowingly or intentionally killing another human being or unborn child” and reckless homicide is “recklessly causing the death of another.”

If the consequences of murder include life in prison, fines, and even the death penalty, how can they be applied to a robot? If a human is found responsible for the robot’s actions, is it fair to apply those consequences to someone who didn’t actually commit murder?

What happens if someone decides to use AI technology to program robots to kill? What happens when a driverless car malfunctions and mows down innocent people on the sidewalk?

In his book When Robots Kill, law professor Gabriel Hallevy discusses the criminal liability of using AI entities in commercial, industrial, military, medical, and personal spheres. He explores many of the concerns mentioned above.

Hallevy sets out his purpose in the book’s preface: “The objective of this book is to develop a comprehensive, general, and legally sophisticated theory of the criminal liability for artificial intelligence and robotics. In addition to the AI entity itself, the theory covers the manufacturer, the programmer, the user, and all other entities involved. Identifying and selecting analogies from existing principles of criminal law, the theory proposes specific ways of thinking through criminal liability for a diverse array of autonomous technologies in a diverse set of reasonable circumstances.”

The most important questions Hallevy explores is whether criminal liability and criminal punishment are applicable to machines. His book focuses only on the criminal liability of AI entities and does not dive into ethics.

Perhaps Hallevy’s work will create the foundation for another conversation to consider the ethics involved in AI entities, based on the framework he has provided. It’s a complex matter and there is no clear answer yet, but perhaps we’ll find an answer before the next deadly incident.

Larry Alton is a contributing writer at VentureBeat covering artificial intelligence.

Robots can kill, but can they murder?

The specter haunting Europe—and the rest of the world, for that matter—isn’t communism anymore, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels so famously wrote in their 1848 manifesto. It’s something far more insidious, and something that Marx and Engels could have hardly imagined: automation, which is to say, AI and robots in all their various iterations.

This slow introduction of artificial intelligence into human economies is the focus of director Maxim Pozdorovkin’s latest documentary, The Truth About Killer Robots, which premieres this Monday, Nov. 26 on HBO. Pozdorovkin takes an unflinching look at the way automated cars, industrial-strength robots, and bomb-detecting autonomous devices have infiltrated human life—and the effects, good or bad, that have come along with them.

The documentary is narrated by a robotic “host” named Kodomoroid. Kodomoroid is disconcertingly humanlike, although her stiff movements and halting voice very quickly give her away as a robot. The decision to have an automaton narrate a documentary about killer robots seems a bit too on the nose, and at times lends the project a distracting, though no less engaging, Westworld-esque futurism.

Kodomoroid lays out the framework for the documentary, and introduces an anecdote involving a deceased worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany—apparently the result of a “malfunctioning” robot. The details are pretty horrifying: after entering into a “cage” with a coworker where robots are allowed to move independently, a robot arm swung around and pinned the 21-year-old worker against a metal wall, crushing his chest and killing him. Volkswagen was, unsurprisingly, cagey about the incident, and an official investigation into the worker’s death remained open for several years after the fact, despite testimony from his coworker implicating the robot.

The accident at the Volkswagen factory introduces the central question that the documentary, somewhat unsuccessfully, seeks to answer: can robots be guilty of killing humans, however unintentional the death was? And how do we hold them accountable if so? Quite a lot of the doc is spent speaking to experts, both legal and philosophical, about the implications of robot interference in human life—and no clear answer is reached.

The documentary is more engaging when it examines the effects of robots and automated labor on the workforce and world economies. The introduction of automatons into factory jobs has lead to the displacement of hundreds of workers, and has forced surviving workers to work harder, longer, and more intricate jobs. Christoph Walter, a robotics engineer in Freiburg, Germany, doesn’t see automated labor as an issue, though. When interviewed in the documentary, he explains, “We don’t want to replace a worker [with a robot]. We want to support workers.”

It’s a nice sentiment that would likely cause Marx to turn in his grave, but regardless of intentions, the introduction of automated labor is bound to change the landscape of industry in some way. In one instance, a Chinese tech executive brought in robots when facing a labor shortage, curtailing his total number of employees and completely changing the way automated labor can be utilized. Although in this situation there was simply a dearth of available workers, what would stop higher-ups from replacing factory workers who, say, went on strike, with robots? The ramifications, as the documentary is right to imply, are huge.

Killer Robots also explores the ways in which automatons can affect other sectors, notably the service and law enforcement spheres. Self-driving cars, manufactured by the likes of Tesla, seem to be the vehicles of the future; as the documentary explains, however, they’re not without their flaws. A particularly grisly accident involving a man in a self-driving Tesla serves as a cautionary tale for those who think that automated vehicles are invincible: the Tesla, with the man inside, hit a semitruck head-on while going 74 miles per hour. His car barreled under the truck, ran through two fences, and eventually stopped when it struck a pole. The driver died from “massive craniocerebral blunt trauma with facial and scalp lacerations” and “avulsion of brain and upper brain stem.”

The central question dogging the documentary, and many of our conceptions of automatons and AI (think: Westworld) is, of course, related to robots’ morality. Isaac Asimov, the famous author and biochemist, laid out The Three Laws of Robotics in 1942. First, he said, robots shouldn’t be allowed to harm humans in any way. Second, robots must be programmed to obey commands from humans, unless they directly conflict with the first rule. And third, a robot must be allowed to protect itself, assuming that doesn’t conflict with the first or second rules.

Asimov, of course, couldn’t have imagined the sheer scope of artificial intelligence and automated labor that exists today. His questions, however moralistic, are worth examining, as Killer Robots seems to sugge

Robots Are Killing People. How Worried Should We Be?

Photo courtesy of HBO

In 2015, a worker at a Volkswagen factory in Germany was grabbed and crushed to death by a stationary robot. In 2016, an Ohio man died when the self-driving Tesla he was in crashed into a tractor-trailer while he watched Harry Potter. That same year the Dallas Police Department used a robot to ambush an active shooter and blow him up. In 2018, a pedestrian in Arizona was killed by an automated Uber. As Artificial Intelligence and robots become more commonplace in our rapidly progressing technological world the question of who’s to blame when a robot kills a human has entered the national dialogue.

With legal, economic, psychological, and moral implications being raised, filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer), explores the issues in his new documentary film, The Truth About Killer Robots, out this week on HBO. VICE talked with Pozdorovkin to find out why he made a film about killer robots, and how close we are to a Westworld- or Matrix-like existence. Here’s what he had to say.

VICE: Why did you make a film about killer robots, how long did it take, and when did you first get the idea?

Maxim Pozdorovkin: I wanted to make a film about automation, and sort of a transformative effect on the robo-economy for a long time. I was interested in kind of using science fiction tropes. When there was this unfortunate accident at a Volkswagen plant, where a worker was killed by a manipulator arm, I went there, and most of the workers were forbidden from talking about the accident. They were all very glad to talk about the way that the robots have transformed their work environment and their lives. I had this idea of looking at several cases where automation was sort of a literal cause of death—a way of considering automation as a certain kind of metaphorical death, a kind of dehumanizing mechanization that our society has been subject to for a long time. To think about AI not as something that's distant and in the future, but something that's part of a historical trajectory, that starts way back in the 1920s [and continuing with the] automation of car manufacturing in the ‘70s. Those are the kind of main ideas from the outset. The film took about three and a half years to make.

How important was Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics to the central theme of the film?

I thought about the way science fiction writers work. They look at the world around them and guess [what] will be ubiquitous and create a world out of these predictions. I didn't want to make a film about science or about technology with talking heads explaining the technology. I wanted to make a film that's not about what robots do for us, but what they do to us. How they transform us. The science fiction approach was to film in the world's four biggest economies and sort of deduce and create this world from what we see all around us. These trends are marginal now, but will clearly be dominant in the future. That was kind of the operating principle of the movie. It was sort of the idea behind how science fiction is created and written. That's why we think of the film as a certain kind of science nonfiction.

How early or late in the process did you come up with the idea for the robot narrator, and when you first came up with that idea, did you have any idea of the impact it would have on the film?

The Kodomoroid android was a robot designed specifically to read the news, as a kind of gambit by Hiroshi Ishiguro, to show that there are all these jobs that will clearly be handed over to robots. I wanted to engage with the technology, engage with the fact that the arts, music, photography, all these industries, are also being hollowed out by automation and so I wanted that to be part of a process. It was very important that the film grapples with the thing that it's talking about, rather than elevating our own kind of uniqueness as humans, as a certain kind of counterbalance to it.

I was inspired by a Peter Watkins film called The War Game, which is narrated in this kind of future conditional tense. [The idea] was there from the very beginning. I wanted to unite the technology, because all the news pieces, all the books, all the articles that I read [were] almost all exclusively in the voices of the engineers, the CEOs, the programmers, and the people who are the direct beneficiaries of the technology. The way that automation [and] mechanization is transforming society and threatening society is already kind of self-evident. My idea was to grapple with more of this as a way of thinking towards AI.

What is the world coming to if we have to consider a robot's guilt or lack there of and are robot's even capable of taking responsibility?

I think that question points to something that's very important, that gets mentioned in the film. Technological advancement will always outstrip the pace at which laws change. We're always going to be playing catch up, and we're always going to be behind. A lot of these incidents where automation

'A Robot Killed a Man': A New Doc Looks at the Terrifying Future of Automation

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