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How Can You Stop Robots From Injuring Workers? Perhaps with Airbags

August 30, 2017

Nothing ruins your day like a robot-induced skull fracture—but there may be a way to avoid it. The Verge reports that researchers from the DLR Robotics and Mechatronics Center in Germany have been busy repurposing safety technology from cars to protect humans from wayward industrial robots. In one video from earlier this year, the team shows that a robot arm fitted with an airbag around its manipulator doesn’t cause injury when it hits someone in the face while traveling at two meters per second.

In another newly published video, though, they show how it might be used more seriously, in an assembly task where robot and human must work together. The airbag can inflate when it comes close to a human, but deflate and retract when the machine needs to perform an intricate task. It's actually remarkably neat in operation, and makes quite a lot of sense. In reality, though, airbags are unlikley to be the main way to keep humans safe from robots: robust sensing and strong security to stop systems from being hijacked will probably do a better job. But they could still prove a useful addition in case robots do go rogue.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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