After being criticized and sued for failing to protect workers from Coronavirus, Amazon has unveiled a new AI tool that it says will help employees follow social distancing rules.
Dubbed as “Distance Assistant” it combines a TV screen, depth sensors, and AI-enabled camera to track employees’ movements and warn them in real-time.
As workers come closer than six feet to one another, circles around their feet flash red on the TV, alerting them that they should move to a safe distance apart. As these devices are self-contained, they can be deployed quickly where needed and moved about.
Amazon to roll out hundreds of similar systems to other locations
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Amazon compares the system to radar speed checks which give drivers instant feedback on their driving. As per Brad Porter, vice president of Amazon Robotics, the assistants have been tested at a “handful” of the company’s buildings, and the firm plans to roll out “hundreds” more to new locations in the coming weeks.
Amazon also says it will be open-sourcing the technology, allowing other companies to quickly replicate and deploy these devices in a range of locations.
Amazon is closely following its other peers
Amazon is not the only one and a large number of firms offering AI video analytics and surveillance have created similar social-distancing tools since the coronavirus outbreak began. Some of them have also turned to physical solutions, like bracelets and pendants which use Bluetooth signals to sense closeness and then buzz or beep to remind workers when they flout social distancing guidelines.
The tool raises privacy concerns though
Although this new AI tool is good for workers to return to busy facilities like warehouses, there are privacy concerns that their introduction will normalize greater levels of surveillance. Since, such surveillance will produce detailed data of workers’ movements throughout the day, allowing managers to hound employees in the name of productivity. Workers at Amazon’s warehouse will also have no choice but to be tracked in this way if they want to keep their job.