Amazon Will Monitor Warehouse Workers with AI ‘Distance Assistants’

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, seen at a conference this month in Sun Valley, Idaho, has become the world's richest individual according to real-time tracking by Forbes magazine

Amazon is deploying AI known as “distance assistants,” which will warn the company’s warehouse workers if they get too close to their co-workers as the company continues its battle against the Chinese virus.

The new era of the Chinese virus comes with new AI technology, as people now apparently need machines to help them behave in a less “natural” manner, according to the vice president of Amazon Robotics, Brad Porter, who published a blog post on Tuesday.

“Given social distancing isn’t always natural, this team set out to use augmented reality to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps associates see their physical distancing from others,” wrote Porter.

Amazon’s new AI, dubbed the “Distance Assistant,” uses machine learning models to differentiate people from their surroundings, combined with depth sensors and an AI-enabled camera to track an employee’s movements and give them feedback in real time, letting them know if they are violating the suggested “social distancing” guidelines.

A green circle, showing appropriate social distancing, can be seen encompassing each individual on a TV screen. The circles will then become red if a person gets closer than six feet to someone else, alerting them that they are not an appropriate distance away.

“The on-screen indicators are designed to remind and encourage associates to maintain appropriate distance from others,” said Porter. “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our employees and we’ll continue to innovate to keep them as safe as possible.”

Amazon compares the Distance Assistant to radar speed checks on the road that alert people if they are driving too fast.

The AI is currently live at a “handful” of Amazon buildings, according to Porter, who added that the company will be “deploying hundreds of these units over the next few weeks.”

“We are also beginning the process to open source the software and AI behind this innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant,” added Porter.

While the blog post did not clarify whether or not it is mandatory for warehouse workers’ movements to be tracked throughout the day, the Verge reports that workers “will have no choice but to be tracked in this way if they want to keep their job.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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