Revenge of the Robots?


     CHICAGO (CN) – An experimental, laser-guided robotic forklift failed to respond to voice commands and pinned another forklift driver to a storage bin, injuring his spine, the man claims in court.
     Lawrence Balun sued Naaco Materials Handling Group dba Yale Materials Handling Corp., Yes Equipment & Services, Vocollects, Intermec, Sick Inc., and David Kressin in Cook County Court.
     “This is a case where the defendants tested their experimental new technology at the expense of the safety of the workers at the factory,” Balun’s attorney Bruno Marasso said in an interview.
     Marasso, of Romanucci & Blandin, said his client “suffered severe injuries to his spine as a result of this unsafe and dangerous testing. The machine that struck Larry was not calibrated properly, the audio receiver was faulty, and the visual sensor did not have a failsafe to stop the collision.”
     As Balun worked as a forklift driver at a Centrella grocery warehouse in Joliet, his standard forklift was smashed by “an experimental, laser-guided, robotic, double pallet jack forklift,” the complaint states.
     “At the time of the collision, the automatic forklift was equipped with a voice recognition sensor and/or system that was supposed to recognize verbal commands from the operator of the forklift to stop motion.
     “Just before the collision, the operator of the automatic forklift did verbally command the automatic forklift to stop motion before it collided with the forklift operated by the plaintiff.
     Despite the equipment of said voice recognition sensor and/or system, the automatic forklift did not respond to its operator’s verbal commands to stop motion.”
     The high-tech forklift allegedly was equipped with sensors that should have prevented a collision with any objects or people in its path-but it didn’t work.
     “(A)t the time of the collision, the automatic forklift was undergoing calibration, experimentation, evaluation, and/or other testing by employees of defendant Yale and/or defendant Yes and/or defendant Kressin,” the complaint states.
     Balun claims the super-duper forklift had not yet been approved “for regular use by employees of Centrella or any other company.”
     And it wasn’t the first time, Balun says in the complaint: “(A)t the time of the collision on August 30, 2011, there had been at least one other incident wherein the automatic forklift did not respond to verbal commands to stop motion and/or did not respond to the motion and/or object detection sensors that were installed in the automatic forklift.”
     Balun suffered a herniated disc from the accident, Marasso said.
     “What it seems happened is that the company developed this automated picker, and they were testing it and calibrating it on-site that summer. There was at least one time before where a person operating the machine told it to stop, and it did not. It was very much a trial-and-error situation going on,” Marasso said.
     Balun and his wife seek damages for negligence and loss of consortium.

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