Robophobia: the fear of a hundred thousand deadly robots

From driverless cars to delivery drones, a new generation of robots is about to revolutionize the way people work, drive and shop. But there is one area where robots are already entrenched and spreading fast: the industrial sector, especially manufacturing and storage. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/upshot/danger-robots-working.html?ref=science?src=dayp

Robots have long toiled alongside workers in factories and warehouses, where they load boxes with items ordered online, drill and weld car parts, or move food from one conveyor belt to the next.

Now many experts worry about the dangers that robots pose to the humans who work alongside them.

Robots have caused at least 33 workplace deaths and injuries in the United States in the last 30 years, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That may not sound like many, but the number may well understate the perils ahead.

Unlike today’s robots, which generally work in cages, the next generation will have much more autonomy and freedom to move on their own.

“In order for robots to work more productively, they must escape from their cages and be able to work alongside people,” said Kent Massey, the director of advanced programs at HDT Robotics. “To achieve this goal safely, robots must become more like people. They must have eyes and a sense of touch, as well as the intelligence to use those senses.”

Until now, robots have largely been used in manufacturing, particularly in the auto industry. They have mostly been “dumb robots,” designed for repetitive tasks that are dirty, dangerous or dull.

Regulations have required that the robots operate separately from humans, in cages or surrounded by light curtains that stop the machines when people approach. As a result, most of the injuries and deaths have happened when humans who are maintaining the robots make an error or violate the safety barriers, such as by entering a cage.

But the robots whose generation is being born today collaborate with humans and travel freely in open environments where people live and work. They are products of the declining cost of sensors and improved artificial intelligence algorithms in areas such as machine vision. Google’s newest driverless car, for instance, is completely automated, without a steering wheel or a brake pedal.

Along with the new, free-roaming robots come new safety concerns. People worry about what happens if a robot spins out of control, or the first time a driverless car kills someone.

“It’s the fear of robots,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School who studies driverless cars. “There’s something scarier about a machine malfunctioning and taking away control from somebody.”

 

 

 

Robot Accidents in the Workplace

WHEN:

AUGUST 2011

WHERE:

BAKERY

WHAT HAPPENED:

An employee was repairing a jammed conveyor belt

in an oven when he became caught between a robotic arm and the belt. He was killed.

WHEN:

MAY 2007

WHERE:

PLASTICS FACTORY

WHAT HAPPENED:

An employee was troubleshooting a robotic arm used to remove CD jewel cases when the arm struck the employee in his head and ribs. He died two weeks later.

WHEN:

JULY 2006

WHERE:

METAL FACTORY

WHAT HAPPENED:

An employee was crushed between a robotic arm and the robot’s work station. He appeared to have been reaching to remove a scrap the robot had dropped or to push the reset button, but there was no memory in the robot computer to know for sure. The employee was killed.

WHEN:

MARCH 2006

WHERE:

CAR FACTORY

WHAT HAPPENED:

A robot caught an employee on the back of her neck and pinned her head between itself and the part she was welding. She was killed.

WHEN:

DECEMBER 2001

WHERE:

CAR FACTORY

WHAT HAPPENED:

An employee was cleaning at the end of his shift and entered a robot’s unlocked cage. The robot grabbed his neck and pinned the employee under a wheel rim. He was asphyxiated.

WHEN:

AUGUST 1999

WHERE:

METAL FACTORY

WHAT HAPPENED:

A maintenance worker climbed a fence to repair a pin in a robot. It was still operating, and he became caught in the machine. He was killed.

WHEN:

NOVEMBER 1996

WHERE:

SPORTING GOODS MANUFACTURER

WHAT HAPPENED:

An employee was using a robot to weld and drill basketball backboards. When he noticed a half-done hole, he manually drilled it. The robot thought that meant the cycle was complete and unexpectedly turned, pinning the employee against the wall. He was hospitalized.

WHEN:

FEBRUARY 1996

WHERE:

ALUMINUM FACTORY

WHAT HAPPENED:

Three workers were watching a robot pour molten aluminum when the pouring unexpectedly stopped. One of them left to flip a switch to start the pouring again. The other two were still standing near the pouring operation, and when the robot restarted, its 150-pound ladle pinned one of them against the wall. He was killed.

WHEN:

JUNE 1999

WHERE:

MEATPACKING PLANT

WHAT HAPPENED:

An employee accidentally activated a robot when he stepped on a conveyor belt where robots were moving boxes of meat. He became trapped. When his co-workers removed the robot, he fell to the floor. He was killed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: