There are about 15,000 robots in metro Detroit, many of them hard at work producing the cars you drive, and more are surely to come, to do the work that humans would’ve done decades ago. But don’t worry! While the robots are taking your job, Bloomberg reports, one company is trying to make them safer—so they don’t potentially kill you in the process.
That company, called Cobotect GmbH, wants to attach airbags to robots, and automakers are getting interested in the concept. The idea was in part prompted by the 2015 death of Volkswagen worker, who was killed by a robot. Bloomberg’s story on the robot airbags is very grim, in a dystopian, we’ve-already-accepted-our-robot-overlords way:
Their newly-created company, Cobotect GmbH, is using the decades-old concept of airbags to cushion potentially dangerous automated parts and prevent workers from getting hurt. Increased safety would mean robots could work more efficiently and at a faster pace when near humans, according to the researchers.
“A lot of people were complaining about unsafe robots and robot tools,” [entrepreneur Roman Weitschat] said in an interview in his laboratory. Sharp edges on parts handled by robotic arms can pose risks to workers if they are accidentally hit, making it hard to gain approval for the machines to be positioned close to humans, he said.
Workers at car plants appear to have been particularly at risk since in 1979 another young worker, this time at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan, became the first person thought to have been killed by a robot.
The Cobotect team started working in March 2016 on a now-finished prototype. Videos and demonstrations show a robotic arm with a hand-sewn airbag attached to its gripper inflating and deflating. The contraption nudges and then knocks the head of a person, who walks away unharmed. The product won an innovation award from Kuka AG, a maker of industrial robots, at Germany’s largest industrial fair in Hannover.
“A lot of people were complaining about unsafe robots and robot tools” is a sentence that, in this context, is not the set up for a joke.
Here is a video that shows the airbags in action.