A South Korean worker was crushed to death by an industrial robot that mistook him for a box of vegetables, local authorities said Thursday.
The unidentified worker in Goseong succumbed to head and chest injuries Tuesday evening after he was snatched up by the robot and shoved onto a conveyor belt, police said.
He reportedly worked for the company that installs the robot, and was sent to the vegetable plant to make sure the model was operating correctly.
The device involved in the accident was one of two pick-and-place robots at the facility, which packages bell peppers and other produce for export to other Asian countries, according to police.
The machines are common in South Korea, which is grappling with a dwindling workforce.
The robot’s sensors are designed to identify boxes, an unnamed police official said.
Surveillance footage from the Tuesday tragedy indicated the man moved near the device with a box in his hands, which may have triggered a response.
“It’s clearly not a case where a robot confused a human with a box -– this wasn’t a very sophisticated machine,” the officer said.
“It wasn’t an advanced, artificial intelligence-powered robot, but a machine that simply picks up boxes and puts them on pallets,” said Kang Jin-gi, who heads the investigations department at Gosong Police Station.
The Goseong incident is not the first robot mishap in South Korea: In March, a manufacturing robot seriously injured an employee at an auto parts factory in Gunsan.
Last year, a robot near a conveyor belt fatally crushed a worker at a milk factory in Pyeongtaek.
In 2021 South Korea had 1,000 industrial robots per 10,000 employees, per the International Federation of Robotics – the highest robot density in the world and more than three times that of China that same year.
Many of South Korea’s industrial robots are used at manufacturing plants including electronics and auto-making.