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Friday, December 14, 2012

That Effing Robot Killed Me!

Way back in 1981 - probably around the time I got my first computer (yes, I did), Urada Kenji (surname first) was killed by a robot.

At the time, he was thought to have been the first person ever killed by a robot, though it turns out Robert Williams was killed two years earlier at a Ford automobile plant... it just wasn't proven until later.

As for Urada, (1944-July 4, 1981), he is indeed the first Japanese person to have been killed by a robot when he was working at a Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. plant in Akashi-shi in Hyogo-ken.

The 37-year-old maintenance engineer was going to work on a broken robot, and so turned it off. However, when he climbed over a fence marked 'off limits', he caused his own death.

Unable to sense him, the powerful hydraulic arm of the robot continued on its predetermined job path and knocked him into a grinding machine.

According to Kawasaki officials, the fence surrounding the robot was meant to shut power off to the robot automatically when the entrance gate opened... but Urada did not open the gate, instead choosing to climb the fence.

Epic fail.

Circumstances of Urada's death were not revealed to the public until December 8, 1981 after a labor standards bureau completed its investigation and completely exonerated the robot.

We can only imagine it was sweating oil, as it initially appeared as though the robot had broken Asimov's first law of robotics: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

Urada's co-workers were unable to help him at all, as no one present knew how to stop the robot - and were to afraid of the robot to actually open the gate and get Urada out... which would have shut the robot down.

I am unsure why I posted this news story 31 years late, but here it is... what was at the time considered the first fatality ever by a robot, and now certainly the first one ever in Japan.

Andrew Joseph

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