Amazon Australia is installing machine-learning cameras and monitors in its warehouses to keep workers from getting too close to each other.
Promoted as an “innovative” way to keep Amazon’s employees – it calls them “associates” – safe during the pandemic, the Distance Assistant uses AI and augmented reality to track movements and measure the space between workers at their warehouses (“fulfilment centres”) letting people know then they are getting too close.
Amazon likens the system to self-monitoring speed radars seen that tell drivers their current speed.
What Amazon workers will see is a screen showing themselves and other warehouse employees with indicators to tell them who is standing too close together and who is keeping the right distance.
Stay away from other employees and your on-screen indicator stays green. Get too close and it will turn yellow, then red.
Director of operations at Amazon Australia, Craig Fuller, said the company had been looking for “scalable technology solutions” to improve worker safety.
“We are pleased to introduce this global innovation in Australia,” he said in a press release.
“Social distancing is a learned behaviour and ‘Distance Assistant’ will continue to enhance our safety practices and also empower our team to improve social distancing.”
Amazon said the images cannot be recorded or transmitted, though it did not specify whether other data from the monitoring system would be analysed.
The retail and tech giant is notorious for its employee surveillance which sees staff racing around warehouses in order to meet a sufficient rate of moving boxes as determined by algorithms.
An Amazon worker who spoke to the ABC in a 2019 exposé said they felt “dehumanised” by the constant performance monitoring.
In the US, delivery vehicles will soon be equipped with AI-powered cameras to monitor delivery drivers.
The cameras are designed to pick up on safety issues – such as hard braking and speeding – and will spit out an alert telling to driver to, for example, “please slow down”.
Cameras will also detect when a driver yawns – whereby it instructs them to pull over and take a break – and Amazon is able to use footage to make employment decisions, according to CNBC.
Amazon warehouse workers are currently looking to unionise in the US. The efforts progressed last week after the US National Labor Relations Board rejected Amazon’s bid to stall a unionising vote by demanding the ballot happen in-person during a pandemic.