An engineer was injured by a Tesla factory robot back in 2021, but the incident report has just come to light following a report by The Information. According to the report, the Tesla engineer was injured by a robot at a Texas factory, where he had been working on programming software that controlled the robots. While two of the robots he was working on were disabled, a third had been left unattended and it was this machine that wounded the engineer. While this Texas Tesla factory robot incident is not a recent one, it is still relevant to consider if we are truly prepared for a fully automated future.
Robotic investments are seeing acceptance across industries but a significant part of the adoption occurs without the necessary emphasis on safety and caution, which is something that needs to change before we move deeper towards acceptance of such technology.
The Incident: Engineer Injured by Tesla Factory Robot
The robots involved in the Texas Tesla factory robot incident were reportedly used for cutting car parts from aluminum and had been temporarily disabled so the engineer could work on the software. In a horrific turn of events, a third robot that was still functional reportedly pinned the engineer to a surface and clawed at his arms and back, leaving him injured and bloodied. The engineer injured by the Tesla factory robot was only able to make an escape when a coworker hit the emergency stop button, giving him the break he needed to escape from the machine, leaving a trail of blood in his wake according to eyewitnesses.
The report indicated that the Tesla engineer injured by the robot at the Austin, Texas factory was left with a “laceration, cut or open wound” on his left hand. Tesla deemed the injury was not serious enough to take time off work, but it is unsure how things proceed with the employee following the incident. There are no reports of any further investigations or explorations with regard to this incident but it does bring two things into question—the questionable working conditions at Tesla and the state of workplace robotics as a whole.
Tesla has long been criticized for its working conditions, urging employees to go “super hardcore” at the cost of their well-being. The Verge reported on the work situations at Tesla, stating that employees would have to sleep on the floor after 12-hour long shifts and injuries and damage to the property from fires and bursting pipes were just some of the ordeals they encountered. The Tesla Fremont plant was reported to have three times as many OSHA safety violations as 10 other US car factories combined, which should be a serious cause for concern but it’s unlikely that anything has changed. The report also found that Tesla had repeatedly misclassified and underreported injuries at some of its facilities, making it quite possible that the severity of the Texas Tesla factory robot incident was underplayed as well. Musk’s aversion to unions is well-reported and The Independent reports that Tesla is locking horns with Scandinavian workers over their ideals as well, making it evident where the employees stand on the working conditions at the company.
Advancing Robotics in the Workplace
Conversations centered around automation have been a part of our history at every stage of the evolution of work. Right from the start of the assembly production and factory setups that mechanized a large number of manual tasks, there has been worry about machines taking away jobs that people depend on for their living. The explosion of AI has only served to further the emphasis on technology replacing manpower, and reports like the one we recently saw of Google potentially laying off 300,000 employees because AI does the job better only further these concerns. While the growth of AI has shaped the software advancements we have made, it has also been linked with the hardware to physically execute tasks in what we hope is a much “smarter” way.
Agility Robotics recently announced the first-ever humanoid robot factory, with its Digit robots scheduled to begin shipping in 2024. Soon, organizations that can afford the investment might turn to the use of these humanoid robots that can navigate spaces and pick up objects, best suited for moving products around a factory or business. We’re still a while away from a future where robots completely take over our jobs, but the pace of adoption of robotics is both exciting and concerning. Many risky jobs can be placed in the hands of these machines but the story of the engineer who was injured by the Tesla factory robot is just one example of the possible dangers of unregulated adoption of robotics. No reports are available regarding what went wrong which makes it difficult to assess the true risks that were involved, but it does lead us to question whether we’re actually taking the safety measures necessary in our excitement to optimize robotics.
Do We Have Regulations Governing the Use of Robotics?
From a simplistic robot arm that picks and drops things off of a conveyor belt to more complex ones that actually navigate environments, like the SwagBot that can act as a cattle herder, there are varying levels of robotics that are being introduced into the workplace today. With each type, the risks that are introduced vary, but despite the burgeoning rise of machines, there are currently no specific OSHA standards for the robotics industry. There are reportedly 29 OSHA-approved State Plans operating state-wide occupational safety and health programs and they extend to recommendations for testing methods and safeguards for human workers that can be set in place. Unfortunately, it is unclear if there are regulatory bodies that truly check in on the robotics element, other than general safety procedures for the machinery. When it comes to AI, there are more conversations revolving around the safety concerns regarding its use and misuse but current standards on the use of robotics itself appear less clear.
Under such conditions, companies are more focused on optimizing robots for use rather than concentrating on precautionary measures and safeguards for their use. Tesla’s own humanoid robot, the Tesla Bot or Optimus Gen 2, was recently unveiled and people appear to be taking it more seriously this time even if the launch video does seem a tad bit unserious. While it does seem significantly more refined than its predecessors, we have no updates on when we could see these robots put to the test. Overall the Texas Tesla factory robot incident needs to be explored further and organizations need to take a closer look at their investments in robotics and approach the matter with a more nuanced lens.