A human worker in South Korea was crushed to death on Tuesday by an industrial robot that apparently mistook the person for a box. In particular, a container of bell peppers.
Local authorities said the man in the southern county of Goseong was killed when the machine grabbed him and put him into a conveyor belt. His head and chest suffered massive trauma and he later died from his injuries.
These machines are reportedly common in the nation’s agricultural industry, which suffers from a declining workforce. The implications are frightening. Further, the man was in the plant that day to test if the machine was working properly, and apparently, it failed.
The victim was identified as an employee of the robotics company, and he was examining the robot’s sensors when the tragedy occurred. A test run was planned for Wednesday.
However, malfunctions in the machine’s processing pushed back the test.
Kang Jin-gi is the lead investigator with the Goseong Police Station. He told the Washington Post that the machine in question was not advanced artificial intelligence. Rather, the robot was designed simply to lift boxes of vegetables and place them on pallets.
Mistaken for a Box of Peppers? Robot Crushes Workerhttps://t.co/uhbCto8Nda
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) November 12, 2023
Kang reported that the tragedy was “clearly not a case where a robot confused a human with a box — this wasn’t a very sophisticated machine.”
Video footage within the plant showed the victim moved near the robot with a box in his hands. Investigators believe this may have triggered the reaction by the robot that picked him up and ultimately crushed him.
A company official said that the industry is increasingly relying on robotics as it works to make the machines more efficient. Everything from “dumb” machines to those driven by artificial intelligence are being utilized to make up for the shrinking labor pool.
South Korea has seen a growing number of incidents, some deadly, involving robots and human workers. In March, an employee at an auto parts factory in Gunsan was seriously injured by a manufacturing robot.
And in 2022, a milk factory worker in Pyeongtaek was crushed to death by another robot.
According to the International Federation of Robots, as of 2021, there were 1,000 such machines in South Korea for every 10,000 human workers. That is the highest such rate in the world and over triple the ratio in China.
South Korea’s exploding use of robotics in manufacturing is centered on facilities involved in the auto industry and electronics.