Amazon To Use AI In Warehouses To Enforce Social Distancing

By Kayleigh Shooter
Technology has assisted many major developments in the coronavirus pandemic, now, companies being able to track contact with other workers...

On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it has launched an artificial intelligence-based tracking system to enforce social distancing at its offices and warehouses to help reduce any risk of contracting the new coronavirus among its workers. The development comes as the world's largest online retailer faces intensifying scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers and unions over whether it is doing enough to protect staff from the pandemic.

Monitors set up in the Amazon warehouses will highlight workers keeping a safe distance in green circles, while workers who are closer will be highlighted in red circles, Amazon said. The system, named Distance Assistant, uses camera footage in the company's buildings to also help identify high-traffic areas and keep workers safe.

In addition to the warehouse monitoring, the company is also using innovative technology to test a wearable device that lights up and makes an audio alert when workers are too close to each other, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. The device is to be piloted from Wednesday at a warehouse outside Seattle.

The company has also been hiring for roles like social distancing ambassadors and guardians, according to internal job postings reviewed by Reuters. Responsibilities of such hires range from frequent audits at warehouses to verifying that headcount does not exceed seating limits in break rooms.

The company, which will open-source the technology behind its Distance Assistant system, is not the first large corporation to turn to AI to track compliance with social distancing. Several firms have announced that AI camera-based software will be crucial to staying open, as it will allow them to show not only workers and customers but also insurers and regulators, that they are monitoring and enforcing safe practices. Allowing safety of workers but also productivity, which in turn will allow the business to continue even during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, privacy activists have raised concerns about increasingly detailed tracking of people and have urged businesses to limit the use of artificial intelligence to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, Amazon said that its tracking system is live at a handful of buildings, adding that it has plans to deploy hundreds of such units over the next few weeks.

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