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When robots -- or 'cobots' -- attack in the workplace

Today, we see the rise of the "cobot," or collaborative robot. These much more sophisticated devices are working their way toward becoming cyborgs, but we're not quite there yet.

Consider the example of a cobotic security guard brought on by one shopping center. The idea wasn't to replace any workers but to augment their existing security capacity. The thing came with all the bells and whistles -- motion sensors, alarms, live video streaming -- all in the form of a 300-pound egg.

It seemed great until a toddler tried to play with it. At that point, everything went wrong. The cobot knocked the child down and ran over his feet.

Where are cobots being employed?

"Collaborative robots have taken the robotics industry by storm over the past several years," says a spokesperson for the Robotic Industries Association.

In 2016 alone, more than 24,000 robots and cobots, worth as much as $1.3 billion were ordered from North American companies, according to Risk & Insurance magazine.

Cobots are cheaper, lighter and more versatile than ordinary robots. Many even have artificial intelligence capacities, making them able to develop and learn new tasks. They are rapidly being introduced into a variety of industries, including construction, automotive manufacturing, electronics assembly, plastics, machine tooling and even healthcare.

Will the cobots really attack?

Probably not, but that doesn't mean they're not dangerous.

"Cobots are still machines and things can go awry in many ways," says a spokesperson for a risk management firm. "The robot can fail. A subcomponent can fail. It can draw the wrong conclusions."

What that means for you is that you might end up being injured by a robot or cobot -- just like the boy whose feet were run over. Only your experience might occur anywhere from a hospital to your workplace.

If you are injured at work by a robot, cobot, or any faulty piece of machinery, you should know that you may have more than one type of legal claim. Because you were injured at work, you would have a valid workers' compensation claim. At the same time, however, you could have an equally valid product liability claim against the manufacturer or the device.

If this happens to you, we recommend you talk to an attorney with experience in both product liability and workers' comp. That way, you can understand your rights and how best to maximize the compensation you receive for your injuries.

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