The recent chess robot incident should never have happened

Universal Robots’ Global Technical Compliance Officer Roberta Nelson Shea explains why the recent and widely publicized chess robot incident in Moscow should never have happened.

The recent chess robot incident should never have happenedThe recent chess robot incident should never have happened

Recently, there was a widely publicized incident where a chess robot system broke the finger of a seven-year-old child at a tournament in Moscow. This should never have happened. The robot was not one of our cobots, but we do feel compelled to comment because this robot chess application does NOT reflect normal safety standards and well-accepted practices across the robotics sector.

The way this incident was reported can distort understanding of robotics application safety. An official of the Russian chess federation implied that the incident occurred because the child ‘violated’ safety rules. This is entirely unreasonable!

Robot system integrators should perform a risk assessment

It is globally accepted that robot system integrator should perform a risk assessment for the intended use and readily foreseeable misuses. If this had been done, numerous modifications would have been implemented including a soft gripper instead of one with hard edges and the use of safety sensors only allowing movement when no one was nearby. It was reasonably foreseeable that the human chess player would be concentrating on the game, not their robot opponent.

Automation safety is about “making the easy way to work, the safe way to work”. In this case, all chess motions need to be able to be performed without a person needing to think “am I okay to move my chess piece or will I be injured?”.

The technology exists to prevent incidents like this from happening

Power and force limited (PFL) collaborative robots (cobots) would stop moving after contact with a person. Technology of this type is readily available. Following the application risk assessment’s requirements, tens of thousands of cobots are working safely alongside humans every day. In fact, cobots are increasingly used in education settings to teach programming and the development of robotic applications.

Safety standards are established internationally and independently certified

All reputable robot manufacturers and integrators embrace their responsibility of delivering safe products and solutions. At Universal Robots, our e-Series robots are certified to EN ISO 13849-1 and EN ISO 10218-1 by TÜV Nord. The cobots include 17 advanced configurable safety functions certified by TÜV Nord as PLd Cat 3. This means they have configurable stopping time and stopping distance, joint position limits, pose limit, tool orientation limit, safety planes, safety boundaries, safe home, force limiting (TCP) and elbow safety (force, speed, boundary restriction).

The safe deployment of cobots can bring huge societal benefits

This chess playing robot integrator reflects badly upon the thousands of automation professionals that take safety very seriously. The world continues to face labor shortages. Robotics and automation can provide a crucial and timely solution and can also make workplaces much better environments for humans to work in. But these opportunities will only be fully realized when safety is a priority in application deployment.

Roberta Nelson Shea

Roberta Nelson Shea is the Global Technical Compliance Officer at Universal Robots responsible for product safety and reducing barriers to global acceptance and deployment. She has spent more than 40 years as a manufacturing automation professional, 23 of them additionally chairing the American National Robot Safety Committee. As chair of ANSI/RIA R15.06 she has developed and defined various technical standards for industrial robots. As chair of the committee ISO/TC 299 (ISO/TC 184/SC2), she led the introduction of ISO/TS 15066, which, as an extension of the established ISO 10218, is the first document to define standardized safety requirements for human-robot collaboration.

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