Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Amazon receives patents for worker wrist monitors

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO, California Inc has received patents for electronic systems that could enable warehouse monitoring through electronic pulses that guide employees by location.

The patent filings, first reported this week by the news site Geekwire, come amid concerns over workplace conditions for the company, which has seen rapid growth in its warehouses or “fulfillment centers” key to its logistics.

The publicly available patent documents show how wrist-worn devices could deliver ultrasonic pulses that could direct employees to the location of bins for packages being sought.

“Ultrasonic tracking of a worker’s hands might be used to monitor performance of assigned tasks,” one of the documents said. “The ultrasonic unit is configured to be worn by a user in proximity to the user’s hand and to periodically emit ultrasonic sound pulses... The management module monitors performance of an assigned task based on the identified inventory bin.”

In a statement, Amazon said it files numerous patents on new technologies that might or might not be implemented.

“The speculation about this patent is misguided,” the statement said. “This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates. By moving equipment to associates’ wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens.”

Any deployment of such systems would likely trigger a backlash over labor conditions and heighten fears over workplace surveillance.

In the patent document, Amazon said the system is designed to help with “time-consuming acts” to locate items in warehouses.

Amazon’s growth has been fueled by technologies that help it speed up shipments to enable deliveries in one or two days. It has invested heavily in automated technology and robotics.

In 2015, a New York Times article described Amazon’s workplace culture as a “hurtful,” Darwinian setting in which employees were pitted against one another to the point of tears to improve productivity.

At the time, Amazon chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos said he did not recognize what he called the depiction of “a soulless, dystopian workplace.”

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