South Korean police said Thursday an industrial robot had crushed a worker to death at a vegetable processing center.
The male worker suffered severe head and chest injuries after the robot’s arms pushed his body against a conveyor belt used to move box containers. The man was treated at a hospital in the southern county of Goseong, but died of his injuries.
Police said early evidence suggested human error was more likely to blame than problems with the robot itself. But investigators were looking into whether the machine was defective or incorrectly designed. The robot was being used to lift boxes filled with vegetables.
Police said the victim of the accident was an employee of a company that deploys industrial robots to businesses. He was sent to the processing center to examine whether the machine was working correctly.
A police official who spoke to The Associated Press (AP) said investigators were looking into the possibility that the robot had misidentified the worker as a box. The machine’s sensors are designed to identify boxes. Security video suggested the man had moved near the robot with a box in his hands and this could have caused the machine’s reaction, the official said.
The machine that caused the death was one of two used at the center to lift and transport boxes loaded with vegetables to be exported to other Asian nations. Such robots are common in South Korean agricultural communities.
A police investigator told the AP the machine was not an “artificial intelligence-powered robot,” but a device designed to just lift and place boxes. He said police were working with related agencies to find out whether the machine had safety issues.
The International Federation of Robotics, based in Germany, estimated South Korea had 1,000 industrial robots per 10,000 employees in 2021. This represents the highest density of industrial robots in the world. Many of these robots are used in manufacturing factories such as electronics and auto-making.
South Korea has had other industrial robot accidents in recent years. In March, a manufacturing robot crushed and seriously injured a worker who was examining it at an auto parts factory in Gunsan. And in 2022, a robot working near a conveyor belt crushed a worker to death at a milk factory south of the capital Seoul.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.
conveyor belt – n. a continuous moving piece of rubber or metal used to transport objects from one place to another