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Scariest Real-Life Robotic Disasters and Accidents

When humans think about the threats robots pose, we usually worry about them taking our jobs. Rarely do we consider the often-fatal accidents and disasters caused by machines. As robotic science progresses, humankind will be forced to answer important questions: Are robots responsible for their actions? What will our relationship with robots become as artificial intelligence develops? And if scientists put all that work into Sophia, why didn't they build her a scalp? 

Incidents of robots causing major accidents make us think about the moral implications of technological growth. Machines as big as self-driving cars and as small as cellphones have caused serious harm to their human users. 


Photo: user uploaded image

  • Samsung Smartphones Exploded En Masse

    When Samsung released the faulty Galaxy Note 7 to compete with Apple's iPhone, it nearly sank the company. Just a few weeks before the US release in August 2016, users in South Korea reported their phones were catching fire and in some cases exploding. The potentially dangerous mistake cost Samsung $26 billion in stock.

    The US issued a recall of the Note 7 in September 2016 and again in October 2016 when Samsung sent out replacement units that had the same issue.

  • A Self-Driving Car Killed A Pedestrian
    Video: YouTube

    A Self-Driving Car Killed A Pedestrian

    One of the first deaths by self-driving car occurred in March 2018. A car owned by Uber struck and killed a female pedestrian. The self-driving system detected a human six seconds before the crash, but didn't take action to prevent the collision.

    The car had an emergency braking system, but it was turned off to prevent "erratic driving." Engineers failed, however, to program the car to alert the operator to brake.

  • Robot Surgeons Caused More Than 144 Deaths Over A 14-Year Period

    Although robotic surgeries have many benefits - such as the ability to make smaller incisions that lead to expedited recovery times - 144 deaths have been linked to the procedures over a 14-year period in the United States.

    The machines have reportedly dropped surgical tools into patients' bodies and singed tissue with electrical sparks. Many of the deaths, however, may be related to complications and risks that naturally occur during surgery.

  • A Robot Arm Fatally Crushed The Chest Of A Worker At A Volkswagen Factory

    A 22-year-old working at a Volkswagen factory in Germany in 2015 sustained fatal injuries when a robotic arm crushed his chest.

    The robot was part of an assembly line that can function without a human controlling it, but it's unclear if it was operating on its own at the time of the incident.

  • An Automated Cannon Malfunctioned And Killed Nine Soldiers In South Africa
    Photo: Skaarup.HA / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    An Automated Cannon Malfunctioned And Killed Nine Soldiers In South Africa

    In 2007, an advanced piece of military machinery designed to identify targets for its human users to shoot malfunctioned in South Africa. It killed nine people when it began to shoot on its own, emptying 250 rounds at a training center.

    The Oerlikon GDF-005 is built to spot aircraft. It's connected to 35mm guns, which can automatically reload. The technology likely jammed and malfuntioned, leading to numerous casualties.

  • A Factory Robot Killed A Worker And Apparently Wiped Its Own Memory Of The Incident

    In 2006, a robot at Alliance Tech Systems pinned a man's head between its robotic arm and company machinery. The man was likely reaching to remove scraps the robot dropped or to press its reset button.

    When analysts performed tests on the robot, it had no memory of malfunctioning on its computer.