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German robot practices hitting humans to ensure future safety

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Roland Behrens, a German scientist, wants to teach robots how not to kill humans. But first, he needs to know how hard they can hit before causing any serious damage. According to a Bloomberg report, a team of researchers at the Fraunhofer IFF Institute in Germany is focused on finding a way for machines to coexist with humans, without hurting them. They've devised a machine that hits a group of volunteers on the arm or the shoulder so that they can study the impact at the highest mass and the lowest velocity. After the pendulum-like robot arm strikes, the volunteer rates the pain on a scale of one to ten. The team stops testing when the pain reaches five and the subjects are then put through an ultrasound to check for bruises from the impact.

Collaborative robots are on the rise. These machines are being built to aid humans at home and at work. But they're not entirely safe yet. Earlier this year, a Volkswagen factory worker died at the hands of an assembly line robot in Kassel, Germany. A mechanical arm that pieces the cars together reportedly gripped the 22-year-old man as he was crushed against a metal plate. According to the report, over the last decade, there were 158 incidences of injuries that involved robots and humans in Germany alone.

These horrific accidents have raised pertinent questions about safety and liability that will need to be addressed for man-machine environments. For now, Behrens hopes to find a way for robots to be built with a better understanding of the human threshold for pain. "The best way is to avoid contact in the first place," he told Bloomberg. "If contact occurs, the consequences must be so low that the person can come into work the next day, at most with a bruise but not with an injury or open wound."

[Image credit: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg]

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