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The Artist and His Dream - Galloping Horses - (Robot kills man at Volkswagen plant in Germany - a true story)



Leon Zimmermann woke up in the morning with a light heart. He gazed at the green plant dipped in the glistening water of the transparent glass vase his mother had kept on the window sill; he felt happy to have another living being in the same room and felt like touching the leaves with his fingers. And he knew they could feel his touch.

He wished Adalhard (noble strength) could feel his touch too. Yes, that was the name given to their latest robot by the Director-Operations who was in charge of this project at the Volkswagen plant in Baunatal, about hundred kilometres from Frankfurt. The factory did not construct vehicles but rather delivered components and assemblies to other plants of the company. Adalhard was programmed to perform a number of tasks in the assembly process.

Leon lived with his mother in their small two room apartment in the valley of the Fulda River. His father died when he was just seven. His mother was a sales woman at a local confectionery and a part time seamstress. She had sent him to the local school and later to the polytechnic college in the district of Kassel. His technical education had got him the job in the Volkswagen factory at twenty two; he was the youngest in his team.

He had always wanted to be a woodcraft man, for he had a knack for creating beautiful shapes from throwaway pieces of logs. When he was just ten, he had crafted an aeroplane with a piece of wood he found in front of the local carpenter's shop. Everybody was fascinated to see the skill with which the boy had shaped up the elegant body, the curved wings and the line of windows. Even his mother was overwhelmed to discover that her little Leon had taken out his father's box of chisels, gouges, fish tails, knives and skews and his little fingers had picked up the magic art of carving out wonders from the deceased parent.

With the speed and beauty of a concord, he had sculpted out trotting horses, speeding cars, flying birds, racing deer, dancing girls; he had breathed life into the dead wood, for he loved life and none of his works lacked motion. On Halloween day, every house in the neighbourhood had a Leon Zimmermann creation at the front gate, a limping dwarf, a laughing demon, a dancing pixy or a frightening ghost set beside a huge lighted Halloween pumpkin.

He was so happy when Herr Hoffmann chose him as part of a team setting up the stationary robot that would work in the assembly process. He was thrilled with the very idea of making the inanimate body parts stand up and was eagerly awaiting the day it operated like a living being. The artist inside him saw in it his galloping horses, his crawling tortoise and his fluttering butterfly.

Herr Hoffmann had taken a liking for him from the very first day he joined work. The middle aged man was happy to watch the young apprentice staring at the huge machines, the long assembly of vehicle parts, the precision with which work was progressing at every point, his eyes full of curiosity and eagerness to learn. He had seen him desperately trying to grasp each and every detail of his subject. So when the new assembling-robot was itself ready to be set up, he took Leon as part of the team, much to the annoyance of his young fellow colleagues.

The boy had come to his room the next day, shy and faltering, with a box in his hand. He had shown Hoffmann a beautifully carved wooden eagle, its sharp eyes glaring, its claws all curled up - about to pounce on its prey. Its animated posture struck him as something so unnaturally real that he sat staring at it, dumbstruck. Hoffmann was full of praise for the young artist. But the boy told him that he had come to show him his creation particularly to thank Hoffmann for selecting him in his robot team. He said he loved to make his pieces vibrant with movement, he could create a true semblance of leaping, galloping or flying; however, he could never make them leap or gallop or fly. He was thrilled to be part of a team which would set up a non-living robot that would really perform, would act as per advice of its creators. Hoffmann was intrigued; he wondered how things in life took different perspectives from different angles of its viewers.

His mother had told him on the previous night that she would leave his breakfast on the table as Leon would have to go out very early. He was so excited that he could hardly eat anything. He ran to catch the first bus, he had already told the driver the previous afternoon.

He was the first to arrive at the plant, the others followed. The young team was resplendent with the responsibility they had been given, but none was as stirred as Leon; he could almost hear his horse's hooves, his frog leaping, his dwarf taking its first tap dance step.

They all gathered inside the plant, a team of five eager-eyed boys in their early twenties. Siegfried, the team leader, was young too, he was just two to three years older than the lot but he treated the rest as kids. He showed them round the plant, some vehicle parts neatly lined against the wall, some hanging from walls, others stacked up high. A long motionless conveyor belt spread across the total length of the room was waiting for the operator to set it in motion. Siegfried took his team to a corner to set up the stationary robot that was to perform some important assembling work at the vehicle major plant.

Leon faced the robot as it stood ready to function and stared at it with wonder. He was looking at it with admiration, admiration for the people who could breathe life into an ugly creature which was so mechanical in appearance, yet could act like a human being. His own creations were so much more beautiful than this metal monster, they were so real, apparently so full of life, and still he could not make them function. And this robot, once set in motion, would grab auto parts and manipulate them. As he was gazing at the stationary motionless robot, his mind full of unusual thoughts and before his friends could warn him, the robot grabbed him up with both its hands and lifted him up. Leon saw his horses galloping by, his birds flying high, his jets leaving behind a trail of white smoke in the sky. And before he could come to his senses, he was dashed against a huge metal plate and crushed to death.

The robot went back to its stationary position.

Next day, a leading newspaper, in its Berlin edition, wrote:

A robot has killed a man at one of Volkswagen's production plants in Germany, the automaker said on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said.

He said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame, rather than a problem with the robot, which can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process.

German news agency DPA reported that prosecutors were considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.

"Robot kills man at Volkswagen plant in Germany
AP | July 2, 2015, 06.46 AM IST


BERLIN: A robot has killed a contractor at one of Volkswagen's production plants in Germany, the automaker said Wednesday.

The man died Monday at the plant in Baunatal, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Frankfurt, VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said.

The 22-year-old was part of a team that was setting up the stationary robot when it grabbed and crushed him against a metal plate, Heiko Hillwig said.

He said initial conclusions indicate that human error was to blame, rather than a problem with the robot, which can be programmed to perform various tasks in the assembly process. He said it normally operates within a confined area at the plant, grabbing auto parts and manipulating them.

Another contractor was present when the incident occurred, but wasn't harmed, Hillwig said. He declined to give any more details about the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

German news agency DPA reported that prosecutors were considering whether to bring charges, and if so, against whom.".


Authored by: Hasi Maitra

© Arked Infotech


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