On Wednesday, Volkswagen said that a 22-year-old external contractor for the company had been killed by a robot at a production factory in Baunatal, Germany. Heiko Hillwig, a VW spokespersonspeaking to the AP about the incident, said that the robot grabbed the worker and crushed him against a metal plate. The worker died later at a nearby hospital due to complications from his injuries.
Hillwig told the AP, “initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame.” He added that the contractor was helping set up the robot and was inside the metal safety cage that usually separates personnel from the metal-manipulating robots. Another worker was present when the incident occurred, but because he was behind the barrier, he was unharmed. Ars has reached out to Volkswagen but has not yet received a response.
According to the Financial Times, “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.”
German newspaper HNA reported that the robot in question is used to build electric engines for Volkswagen, and the FT noted rather bleakly that the robot suffered no damage in the accident.
No further details were given by Volkswagen because prosecutors have launched an investigation into the incident.
The story gained some morbid attention earlier today when a Financial Times employment reporter named Sarah O’Connor tweeted the story, not realizing the connection between her name and character who has a similar name (Sarah Connor) in the Terminator series.
Her tweet was retweeted more than 3,500 times and she received an influx of messages making jokes about the news. “Feeling really uncomfortable about this inadvertent Twitter thing I seem to have kicked off,” she tweeted later today. “Somebody died. Let’s not forget.”
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.
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