I’ll be honest, there are a few surprising and confusing parts of this story. First of all, let’s note that the incident that is getting all the headlines and discussion is from 2021. Why it is getting all these headlines now is … unclear.
Also, yes, it’s surprising that a factory robot somehow brutally attacked a Tesla employee, cutting him up a bit and leading to the human falling down a chute where scrap aluminum is supposed to be chucked. Yes, this is odd and shocking — at least, as it’s been told. “A robot at Tesla allegedly attacked an engineer, stabbing its metal claws into his back and arm and leaving a ‘trail of blood’ on the machinery, according to a 2021 injury report,” The Daily Beast writes. “The engineer was able to break free from the assembly robot after a colleague pressed the emergency stop button. Upon being released, the engineer reportedly tumbled a few feet down a chute intended for collecting scrap aluminium, leaving a trail of blood.” Yikes.
Though, the way it’s framed in various headlines, it comes across like some robots came to life and decided to go after the nearest humans. In actuality, it is certainly not a general-AI robot. Basic programming in the machine seemingly combined with a weird circumstance, leading to the terrifying situation for the Tesla engineer who got mauled a bit and then fell down a chute. What should be made clear, though, is the robot didn’t start thinking about world domination and consciously try to eliminate the nearest humans. It wasn’t one of Tesla’s new Optimus bots that went rogue or something like that. That’s not to say it’s not a crazy, concerning story. This is how The Information told the story:
In 2021, an engineer was programming the software that controls manufacturing robots at Tesla’s Austin, Texas, factory when something went wrong.
Two of the robots, which cut car parts from freshly cast pieces of aluminum, were disabled so the engineer and his teammates could safely work on the machines. A third one, which grabbed and moved the car parts, was inadvertently left operational, according to two people who watched it happen. As that robot ran through its normal motions, it pinned the engineer against a surface, pushing its claws into his body and drawing blood from his back and his arm, the two people said.
After another worker hit an emergency stop button, the engineer maneuvered his way out of the robot’s grasp, falling a couple of feet down a chute designed to collect scrap aluminum and leaving a trail of blood behind him, one of the witnesses said.
At the end of the day, what’s not new is that crazy stuff happens in factories, and factory workers get injuries, sometimes severe injuries. However, it was the frequency of such injuries that shook me the most from this story. This is what jumped out as the real shocker in the story for me, getting my mouth to drop and my eyebrows to raise. According to a report from The Independent, one out of every 38 auto factory workers gets severe injuries in the US, and Tesla’s gigafactory in Texas was a source of an even worse result — one of of 21 factory workers gets such injuries. That’s a crazy high rate in my eyes — it blew my mind. This is the status of an auto factory worker in 2023? One severe on-the-job injury out of every 38 workers?! Apparently so. And one out of every 21 at Tesla Giga Texas?! That seems wild to me.
It should come as no surprise, though, that some think even these high injury rates come from underreported injuries at the Texas Tesla factory. “My advice would be to read that report with a grain of salt,” an attorney, Hannah Alexander of the nonprofit Workers Defense Project, told DailyMail. “We’ve had multiple workers who were injured, and one worker who died, whose injuries or death are not in these reports that Tesla is supposed to be accurately completing and submitting to the county in order to get tax incentives.” The death came to a construction worker who died from heat stroke while helping to build the factory.
Tesla definitely has a culture of work fast, innovate quickly. The famous phrase from Silicon Valley, where Tesla was birthed, is “move fast and break things.” Does that come into play at Tesla factories in a way that leads to more worker injuries? It would not surprise me at all, and I think anyone who knows much about Tesla’s and particularly Elon Musk’s approach to business would have to say the same if being honest with themself.
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