A rogue robot has killed a technician at a car factory in an accident with chilling overtones of a science fiction movie.
The 22-year-old man was picked up and crushed by an automated arm while working on the production line.
The incident, at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, is believed to be the first death in Europe caused by an industrial robot. But experts were quick to dispel any ideas that the tragedy could be seen as the darker side of science fiction becoming reality.
They insisted the death was a result of human error and not any malfunction on the part of the robot.
The man who died was a contract worker at the car plant in Baunatal, near Kassel, central Germany, where 15,000 people are employed assembling gearboxes and other vehicle parts.
He was installing a computer-operated production line for electronic motors.
The robotic arm intended to lift machine parts seems to have grabbed him and crushed him against a large metal plate. The man, from a firm based in Meissen, eastern Germany, suffered severe injuries to his chest in the incident on Monday. He was resuscitated at the scene, but died from his injuries in hospital. A second contractor present during the incident was unharmed.
VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said initial conclusions indicated human error was to blame rather than a malfunction with the robot, which can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process.
He said: 'It normally operates within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.'
VW, which is one of the most automated carmakers in the world, said the robot involved was owned by the contractors. A news agency reported that prosecutors are considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.
Deaths by robots are highly unusual. The first is thought to have occurred in 1979, when a worker died after being struck in the head by the arm of a one-ton production-line robot at a Ford plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, US.
Two years later, a man was killed as he tried to fix a robot at a Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant in Japan. He failed to turn it off properly ? and its hydraulic arm pushed him into a grinding machine.
The prospect of robots turning on their human masters has long been portrayed in science fiction. But experts said the robot involved in Monday's tragedy could not be held responsible.
Dr Blay Whitby, lecturer in computer science and artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex, said: 'It's important to understand that with present technology we cannot ?blame? the robot.
'They are not yet at a level where their decision-making allows us to treat them as blameworthy. This unfortunate accident is technically and morally comparable to a machine operator being crushed because he didn't use the safety guard.'
Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of AI and robotics at the University of Sheffield, said: 'Robots do not act of their own volition and would not attack a human unless programmed to do so.'
- Daily Mail