How Often Do Robots Malfunction?

How Often Do Robots Malfunction

Do you want an honest opinion? With the high prices of modern robots and how dependent we can become on them, it can be life-altering when they break down, whether you’re in the middle of an important medical procedure like surgery or operating picking up and transporting a heavy load.

While these issues may not have the same consequences as they would in a manufacturing plant, a study by IIoT World found that equipment downtime or failure can cost industries up to $260,000 per failure!

This is definitely the only disadvantage to replacing humans with robots. However, before we celebrate, we should consider how often robots malfunction.

According to a report by the International Journal of Performability Engineering, robots experience system failures an average of 12% of the year. While this percentage may seem small, it is significant considering the increasing reliance on robots to automate our daily routines.

This has led to public concern and interest regarding the certainty and reality of robot malfunctions. In this article, we will explore the facts and fiction surrounding robot malfunctions.

Common Causes of Robot Malfunctions

The growing number of robots has led to concerns about potential malfunctions caused by various factors. These factors include human error, programming errors, lack of maintenance, mechanical failures, power disruptions, or environmental issues.

Causes of Robot Malfunctions

However, by clearly understanding these causal factors, we can make informed decisions that will reduce risks and improve the overall dependability of robotic systems.

Environmental Factors

Extreme temperatures, exposure to fluids, and other harsh weather conditions can cause robots to malfunction. These environmental factors can lead to electronic components overheating, corrosion, and short-circuiting.

Exposure to dust, dirt, and debris in homes or industrial settings can also clog and damage robotic joints and sensors, leading to malfunctions.

Robots used in outdoor environments are particularly vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns, uneven terrain, and vegetation. These factors can interfere with the movement and navigation of robots, causing breakdowns.

Additionally, electromagnetic interference from power lines and other electronic devices in the environment can disrupt robots’ signals and communication systems, leading to malfunctions.

To reduce the rate at which robots malfunction due to environmental factors, stakeholders and manufacturers should focus on designing robots that can withstand harsh conditions.

Software Glitch

Software glitches are a common issue in robotics and have affected many companies like Waymo and Tesla, leading to recalls of their vehicles. These glitches can occur for various reasons, such as coding errors, compatibility issues, or algorithm errors.

Software Glitch

They can cause robots to become inefficient in tasks, fail to perform specific functions, or even become unresponsive.

To tackle software issues in robotics, developers and engineers must follow rigorous testing, debugging, and quality assurance protocols. This includes conducting comprehensive code reviews and simulation testing.

Regular reviews of code and updates can help robots adapt to their changing environments and ensure software compatibility with the robot’s operating system.

Power Disruptions

Ensuring a consistent power supply is essential if you dream of owning a robot. Power fluctuations can cause robots to malfunction in various ways. For example, traditional appliances can be damaged by an unstable power supply or a sudden shutdown.

Robots may experience similar or even more significant consequences in such events. Improperly shutting down a robot can cause sensitive components to be damaged and data to become corrupted.

That’s not just it. Robots can incur severe mechanical damage in an unstable power supply. Some robots may be in movement or operation when the power goes out. This sudden stop can cause mechanical stress and damage components like motors, gears, or other moving parts.

The best solution to this issue is to ensure your robot has backup power sources like batteries and capacitors to provide temporary power during outages. Also, proper shutdown procedures can minimize the impact of power disruptions on robot operation.

Lack of Maintenance

Let’s face the fact: Our lack of proper maintenance culture has left a dent in our lives by leaving us with hefty prices for repairing gadgets that could have been easily avoided. You feel guilty, right? Robots could face a similar fate if we fail to maintain them properly.

Robot Maintenance

Over time, robots need to be regularly maintained so their various components can stay intact and recover. This includes mechanical components such as motors, gears, and joints and electronic components such as sensors, circuit boards, and wiring. If a power disruption occurs, it can further damage these already compromised components.

To prevent malfunctions and save money, it is essential to establish a proper maintenance routine for robots. This can include cleaning, inspection, lubrication, and software updates. Robots can continue functioning effectively and efficiently by adhering to these regular maintenance routines.

Human Error

As humans, we play a significant role in causing robots to fail. We are responsible for designing and programming robots to perform specific tasks.

Mistakes made during the programming phase, such as coding errors, logic flaws, or incorrect parameter settings, can lead to unintended behaviors or malfunctions in the robot’s operation.

Moreover, human operators can make errors in executing commands or managing inputs and outputs during routine operations. These operational mistakes can cause the robot to deviate from its intended behavior, resulting in malfunctions or unsafe conditions.

Sometimes, we are tempted to intentionally bypass safety protocols or ignore warning signals to fuel our curiosity. This puts the robot at risk of malfunctions. This happens primarily due to complacency, time pressure, or a need for more awareness about the importance of safety procedures.

To resolve the risk of human error, we can implement training, procedural safeguards, monitoring systems, and an organizational culture prioritizing attention to detail, adherence to protocols, and continuous improvement in human-robot interaction.

Preventing and Addressing Robot Malfunctions

Preventing Robot Malfunctions

Remember to Monitor the Performance

It is essential to monitor the performance and behavior of a robot during its operation and maintenance to avoid malfunctions. Tools such as sensors, cameras, logs, or alerts can be used to collect and analyze data on the robot’s actions and outcomes.

Also, it’s recommended to establish a feedback loop with the robot’s users, operators, or managers to report and respond to any issues, incidents, or anomalies that may indicate a malfunction.

Inspect Mechanical Components for Any Signs of Wear and Tear

Mechanical failures pose a significant risk for workplace hazards associated with robotics. Therefore, it is crucial to inspect all robots regularly to identify any signs of damage. More than simply examining the robot’s external appearance is required.

To diagnose potential issues accurately, inspectors must delve into the machine and examine the mechanical parts that drive its functions. Any problems found in these parts must be addressed immediately and resolved before resuming production.

Be Vigilant and Cautious of Common Human Errors

Many first-time robotics users are worried about errors during the initial programming or installation stage. However, human mistakes during operations can be just as expensive.

An operator needs to gain the proper knowledge to run a robot daily, or if they need to become more familiar with the correct safety protocols, a simple mistake could quickly become a catastrophe.

Attempting to apply a quick fix to a machine, for example, puts the operator and others at significant risk. Common human errors cause a large number of avoidable incidents.

Identify the Hazards

To prevent malfunction in robots, it is essential to identify and evaluate the possible hazards that could arise from robot malfunctions. These hazards may include physical injury, property damage, data breach, privacy violation, or ethical dilemmas.

You can use tools like hazard analysis, risk assessment, threat modeling, or ethical impact assessment to systematically evaluate these risks’ likelihood, sources, and severity. It is also crucial to consider the context, scenarios, and stakeholders involved in the operation and deployment of the robot.


Robots and cobots have become integral to modern-day factories, as they can significantly increase productivity and efficiency. However, despite their benefits, they could be more flawless.

They are susceptible to errors that can arise due to programming glitches or malfunctions, and not all possess the intelligence to detect the mistakes.

In essence, robot breakdowns can create significant problems. Factors such as bad weather, faulty computer programs, lack of maintenance, power outages, or human errors can all cause them to stop working.

To prevent these issues, we must ensure that robots are designed to handle challenging situations, are regularly checked or serviced, and that people are taught how to use them safely. By doing so, we can ensure that robots function correctly and do not pose any risks.

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