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Rogue Robot Attacks Visitors at Chinese Tech Fair

It sounds like a scene straight out of a science fiction movie, but visitors of China’s six-day Hi-Tech Fair 2016 event in Shenzen witnessed and experienced  a robot going “rogue” firsthand and injuring people on November 18. Demonstrating the use of automation interaction, a robot codenamed “Xiao Pang” rammed a neighbouring booth at high speeds enough to shatter glass and injure those within its proximity with splinters and shards. Victims were taken to a nearby hospital to receive stitches and some were carried out in stretchers as some glass projectiles were sizable and hit their legs and ankles.

Xiao Pang is an adorable robot similar to the ASUS Zenbo or the Omate Yumi designed for educational use and interact with children having an emotion display screen that can respond to user questions. The name loosely translates to “Little Fatty” or “Little Chubby” (小胖) in English which many Chinese netizens on Weibo (Twitter equivalent in China) initially took as the reason why the robot went rogue, taking offense to the name and lashing out at those nearby. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), artificial intelligence still has some ways ahead and Little Fatty is not nearly that advanced yet in the brain-box department.

The event organizers said that the attack was a simple case of human error, with the operator of the manual control throttling the forward button instead of reverse when issuing a command. Little Fatty is made by Beijing-based EFRobot and retails for ¥9988 Yuan or $1460 USD. EFRobot also makes other robots for the home including “Fabo”, a ¥12988 ($1885 USD) home version.

EFRobot has issued a statement on their page clarifying that it was indeed a mechanical error and assured everyone that Little Fatty’s AI is completely safe and has already sold over 3000 units.  Little Fatty also has collision detection capabilities that would prevent such an issue when in home use but it was only in manual mode during the demonstration. The statement further claims online media has subjectively exaggerated the injuries and that the chaos in the scene lasted only 10 seconds. For their part, EF Robot also pledges that safety standards must be improved to prevent such an event from happening again in the future.

Ron Perillo

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