I’ve just been reading a Danish report on how robots have become an essential part of the workplace future, and the health and safety risks they pose. Not just now, but in the future, because they will speed up production and through Ai (artificial intelligence) change the workplace – probably far more than we can imagine in our robot-less factories now.
The first fact that grabbed me was the definition of a robot in the report:
‘Nowadays the concept of robot entails not just physical robots, but also smart sensor networks, analysis software, or artificial intelligence in general.’
This widens the possibilities from the robots I saw on the production line at Ford’s years ago. These were programmed to do simple repetitive tasks, requiring speed and strength.
Future Robot Safety
The report acknowledges that industrial robots have bought many benefits, but, points out, also increased robot risks too; even if they stay contained in clearly defined areas of operation, such as safety zones or cages. The author discusses the likely increase in accidents and gives such scenarios in the future. There is a good section on advantages and disadvantages, control measures and human factors affecting robot operation.
Interestingly the authors reference Asimov’s three laws of robots, remember they must:
- Not harm human beings
- Obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law
- Protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws
I remember these laws vaguely from watching sci-fi films; so surprised to see them here, after all, it was a fiction book. So maybe robots won’t mean to harm us but what if there’s been a problem with programming? Or hacking?
The report points out that there is no specific legislation on robots although machine safety laws apply. I suppose that means we only have Asimov to safeguard humans?
Benefits of Robotics
We are also forced to think about how robots will develop in the future and the impact it will have on employment practices in the workplace. The report points out that robots do not get tired, bored, or complain and they are strong and accurate. Also, once you’ve purchased, there is no ongoing expensive salary to consider.
Take a look at where robots are already having an impact, such as healthcare and agriculture. The list is astonishing.
Robot Safety in the Workplace
The report points out that the weakness with robots is in their programming; suggesting it may be their Achilles heel because of malware, hacking, technical and human errors. There are lists of problems that could arise and control measures to counteract robot risks. Something which safety professional consider every day.
The report is easy to read and has a lot of common sense and scary outcomes. If you are involved with any programming, Ai, or robotics, it’s a recommended read.
Here is the full PDF report on robot safety, for you to see. Please leave me any comments as usual.
Emergent risk to workplace safety as a result of the use of robots in the work place (TNO-report 2016 R11488)