A 21-year-old car factory worker in Baunatal, Germany, was fatally injured by an assembly line robot on Tuesday, local newspaper Hessische Niedersaechsische Allgemeine reported. The tragic incident occurred as the human employee was installing the machine, whereupon the robot grabbed him and forced him against a metal plate. He later died in the hospital after sustaining severe chest injuries.
The victim was employed by a third-party vendor from Meissen, a neighboring city, and was working on putting the robot together for a new electric motor production line. According to a Volkswagen spokesperson Heiko Hillwig, the tragedy resulted from human error. Hillwig noted that the robot is capable of being programmed to carry out a number of tasks throughout the automobile production process and normally works only within a small space, where it grabs and manipulates car parts.
Normally, such robots are kept in safety cages so as to all but eliminate contact with human beings and such accidents. But when this particular incident occurred, the employee was standing inside, rather than outside the cage. His colleague, who remained out of the way and behind the protection of the safety cage, was unharmed. Volkswagen noted that the robot involved in the accident was not meant to work alongside humans, but did not have any technical defects that would have made it malfunction.
In following protocol, prosecutors and local investigators are in the process of conducting an investigation into his official cause of death, and according to German news agency DPA, it is yet unclear whether charges will be leveled, and if so, against whom. Such accidents are generally rare amongst Western, more advanced factories.
News of the employee's death gained considerable traction on Wednesday, when a Financial Times reporter named Sarah O'Connor tweeted about the story. Given the similarities between her name and the fictional Sarah Connor of the Terminator series, she now has over 8,200 retweets, along with some inappropriate and insensitive jokes. She tweeted later, "Feeling really uncomfortable about this inadvertent Twitter thing I seem to have kicked off," she tweeted later today. "Somebody died. Let's not forget."