Robotic arm crushes man to death in South Korean vegetable packing factory
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The Smartencyclopedia Staff & Agencies

A man in South Korea died this week after he was crushed by an industrial robot that could not differentiate him from a box of vegetables, according to local reports.

The employee, who has not been publicly named but was in his 40s, was inspecting the robotics at a pepper-sorting plant in the country’s South Gyeongsang province, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said on Wednesday.

At the time of the incident, the man was testing a sensor on a robotic arm of a pick-and-place machine responsible for moving boxes of peppers from a conveyor belt and onto palettes for transportation. The robotic arm grabbed the employee with its claw, pinning him to the conveyor belt, the BBC reported.

The robot’s grip crushed the man’s chest and head.

He was taken to hospital but later died from his injuries.

It’s unclear whether the robot is malfunctioning. The Associated Press reported that preliminary evidence suggested human error was the cause of the accident. A local police officer said surveillance footage showed the man approaching the robot with a box in his hand before he was arrested. Officials believe this may have caused the robot to malfunction.

The owner stated that the robot “is not a very smart machine” and therefore it does not have the ability to differentiate between workers and boxes.

Local police said they were being investigated by staff from a robotics company before being tested at a paper mill.

Donggucheng Export Agricultural Park, which houses the vegetable factory, requested safe, advanced methods related to robot testing and installation.

The pickup robot involved in the incident was one of two machines used at the paper mill. South Korea’s agricultural sector is highly mechanized but has a small and aging workforce.

“This is not a high-tech smart robot, but a machine that simply picks up boxes and places them on a pallet,” said Kang Jin-gi, head of the Goseong Police Department’s inspection department.

Like many countries, South Korea has made significant investments in robotics in both industrial and non-industrial sectors. A fatality this week has raised concerns and questions about the safety of industrial robots and the false sense of security they provide to people working in the same environment.

There have been many accidents involving industrial robots in South Korea in recent years. In March, a construction robot malfunctioned at a Gunsan car factory, seriously injuring a worker who was being tested. Last year, a worker at a Pyeongtaek milk factory was killed by a robot placed near a conveyor belt.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, there will be 1,000 robots per 10,000 workers in 2021, the highest in the world and three times that of China last year. Many Korean engineers are employed in large manufacturing industries such as electronics and automobile manufacturing.

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