A chess robot broke the finger of a seven-year-old boy playing in a tournament in Russia, according to reports from local news channels (seen via the guard).
The incident happened last week at the Moscow Chess Open, where the robot was hired to play against competitors. Video of the incident (below) shows that the machine is a standard industrial robotic arm modified to move pieces on three chessboards simultaneously.
“The robot broke the child’s finger. This is of course bad,” said Sergey Lazarev, president of the Moscow Chess Federation. told the Russian news agency TASS (translation via Google Translate).
Lazarev said: “The robot has been rented by us, it has been exhibited in many places with specialists for a long time. Apparently the operators have overlooked it. The child made a movement, and then we have to give the robot time to answers, but the boy hurried, the robot grabbed him. We have nothing to do with the robot.”
It’s not clear what explanation — if any — the robot’s makers offered for this accident, but such incidents aren’t uncommon in scenarios where robot engineers haven’t properly considered safety protocol around humans.
In most industrial environments, robots are essentially invisible operators. They move along fixed paths at regular intervals and often have no sensors to recognize or respond to people nearby. In other words, if you walk their path, they won’t know you’re there.
This kind of blind collision has been the cause of many robot deaths. It is widely believed that the first such incident occurred in 1979, when Ford factory worker Robert Williams was crushed by a robotic arm. The United States Department of Labor records these deaths, which count about one fatality per year, although the statistics vary based on the definition of a robot by different companies. For example, is an assembly line a robot? Or a molding machine?
In the case of the chess robot, it seems that the device is only designed to identify and move chess pieces – not to respond to the appearance of a human hand on the playing field.
“There are certain safety rules and the child has apparently broken them. When he made his move, he didn’t realize that he had to wait first,” Sergey Smagin, vice president of the Russian Chess Federation, told a Telegram-based news channel Baza, according to the guard.
However, it would be more accurate to say that the robot’s designers broke safety rules by creating a machine that could inadvertently hurt people. A number of basic functions could have prevented the accident – from placing a camera above the chessboard that disables the robot’s movement if foreign objects appear in the frame, to limiting the force that can be delivered by the robot arm.
Although the images of the incident are disturbing, Lazarev said the child recovered quickly enough to continue playing. “The kid played the next day, the tournament ended in a cast, and the volunteers helped record the moves,” Lazarev said. TASS. “The robot operators will apparently have to think about strengthening protection so that this situation does not happen again.”