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Logistics / Workforce

Wearables and monitor displays help Amazon comply with social distancing

By Andrew Sansom 18 Jun 2020 0

Amazon is trialling a wearable device that notifies warehouse workers when they’re failing to adhere to social distancing rules.

The device is described as a clear plastic sleeve with a clip that features an LED light and audio system, according to a company memo seen by CNBC

If they violate social distancing protocols by getting too close to one another, workers at Amazon’s facility in Kent, Washington will hear a loud beeping noise from their wearable and see a flashing light. 

Employees can pick up the device from stations dotted around their facility, says a report from CNBC, and they will receive instructions on how to use it. At the end of their shift, the workers are required to return the device and are invited to share feedback by scanning a QR code on flyers posted in the facility. There is apparently no obligation for workers to use the device.

According to the memo, it’s hoped the technology will help employees and teams “work safer” while complying with social distancing rules during the pandemic.

“We’re excited to test this technology with you and get your feedback to understand if it’s an effective tool to keep you safe,” it’s reported the memo states. “Additionally, if we are ever notified of a COVID-19 diagnosis, the data captured from the devices of associates who had close contact can be used to conduct contact tracing.” 

Amazon has introduced other safety measures to enforce social distancing rules at its warehouses, with the rollout of so-called “Distance Assistants” at several US facilities. The concept uses augmented reality to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps individuals see their physical distancing from others. The Distance Assistant is said to provide employees with live feedback on social distancing via a 50-inch monitor, a camera and a local computing device. The standalone unit uses machine learning models to differentiate people from their surroundings. Combined with depth sensors, it creates an accurate distance measurement between workers.

As people walk past the camera, a monitor displays live video with visual overlays to show if associates are within six feet of one another. Individuals remaining six feet apart are highlighted with green circles, while those who are closer together are highlighted with red circles. The on-screen indicators are designed to remind and encourage workers to maintain appropriate distance from others. The self-contained device requires only a standard electrical outlet, and can be quickly deployed to building entrances and other high-visibility areas, says Amazon.

Based on positive employee feedback already received, the company expects to deploy hundreds of these units over the next few weeks. It also wants to open-source the software and artificial intelligence behind the innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant.

According to CNBC, Amazon’s response to the pandemic has been criticised for being too slow in providing workers with personal protective equipment, temperature checks and other tools to keep them safe. Amazon has rejected the accusations, stressing that it has gone to “great lengths” to protect workers from the coronavirus.

In a statement back in March, it said: “Our top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees, and we expect to invest approximately $4 billion through June on COVID-related initiatives to get products to customers and keep employees safe. This includes investments related to COVID-19 safety measures such as personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of our facilities, processes that allow for effective social distancing, higher wages for hourly teams, and developing our own COVID-19 testing capabilities, etc.”

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