It is a story that proves robotic machines can make fatal mistakes.

A South Korean man has been crushed to death by an industrial robot that mistook him for a box of vegetables.

The man, who was in his 40s, had been inspecting a problem with the robot’s sensor at a distribution centre for agricultural produce in South Gyeongsang province.

According to the Yonhap news agency, the robot, which was placing boxes of peppers on to a pallet, grabbed the worker.

The robotic arm thrust the man against the conveyor belt, crushing his face and chest. He was rushed to hospital but later died.

An official from the Dongseong Export Agricultural Complex, which owns the plant, called for a “precise and safe” system to be established in a statement following the accident.

This was the second serious accident involving an industrial robot in South Korea in a matter of months.

In March, a man in his 50s sustained serious injuries after being trapped by a robot at a car manufacturing plant.

And in 2015, a 22-year-old worker at a German Volkswagen factory was killed by a robot.

Used for decades

Industrial robots have been used for decades to carry out routine tasks from assembly to sorting goods.

Their main function is to handle repetitive and, at times, potentially dangerous tasks.

A study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine earlier this year said 41 people had been killed by industrial robots in the US between 1992 and 2017.

The overwhelming majority of fatal accidents – 83 per cent – were caused by stationary robots, and the remainder by mobile ones.

Prosecutions have taken place, such as when Bart Matthews was killed in 1992 by an industrial robot in Silicon Valley. Matthews, who worked as a robot operator at Cybernetics Inc, was killed when the robot he was operating malfunctioned and started to wave its “arm” violently, striking Matthews.

Nearly four out of five of the accidents took place during routine maintenance of the robots, rather than when they were carrying out their tasks.

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