Amazon deploys AI in warehouses to ensure social distancing

17 June 2020

Online retail giant Amazon has introduced artificial intelligence (AI) at its warehouses to monitor workers’ distance from each other and let them know when they are breaking social distancing rules.

The system applies AI and machine learning to camera footage in Amazon’s buildings, which is then displayed on large monitors with visual overlays to show workers if they are within 6ft of one another. People keeping the required distance are highlighted with a green circle and those who are too close are highlighted with a red circle.

In a company blog, Amazon vice president of robotics Brad Porter said the on-screen indicators were designed to remind workers and encourage them to maintain social distancing. The “Distance Assistant” installations are currently at a handful of buildings.

“We’ve heard that employees find value in getting immediate visual feedback, and site leaders are welcoming another safety measure,” he said. “Based on that positive employee feedback, we will be deploying hundreds of these units over the next few weeks.”

Porter said Amazon would open source the software and AI behind the system so others could use it.

He added the company had been reimagining workstations and implementing new process across its operations, and the Distance Assistant was one of many ideas.

“Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of our employees and we’ll continue to innovate to keep them as safe as possible,” said Porter.

Last week, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) announced that it was partnering with Amazon to help businesses get back to work as lockdown restrictions eased. Under the initiative, 1,000 UK businesses will be able to tour Amazon fulfilment centres, to see how the company has implemented safety measures during the Covid-19 crisis.

The BCC said although most business were able to restart operations, some were unable to, with social distancing being the problem. It said the partnership with Amazon would provide practical guidance to help firms get back to work safely as non-essential businesses reopen.

BCC director general Adam Marshall said: “Firms of every size and sector from across the UK will appreciate the chance to see the practical reality of working within existing guidelines first-hand at Amazon and apply this learning to their own operations as they begin to reopen.”

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