Smart Cameras at Amazon Provide Real-Time Social Distancing Feedback to Employees

By | June 16, 2020

Amazon Inc. is pairing cameras with artificial intelligence to enforce social distancing among employees in its offices and warehouses. The system gives employees real time feedback on whether they are complying with the six feet social distancing rule.

“Given social distancing isn’t always natural, this team set out to use augmented reality to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps associates see their physical distancing from others,” writes engineer Brad Porter in a blog entry on Amazon’s website.

The real-time system, known as Distance Assistant, calculates a distance measurement between workers. As employees walk past a camera, they can see a live video where those who are six feet apart are highlighted with green circles, while those too close together are highlighted with red circles.

“We’ve heard that employees find value in getting immediate visual feedback, and site leaders are welcoming another safety measure,” according to Porter.

Get Too Close, Get Buzzed. Ford Tests Wearables to Keep Workers at Safe Distances.

Ford Motor Co. workers are experimenting with wearable social-distancing devices that could be deployed more widely once the carmaker reopens idled manufacturing plants.

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It’s legal for businesses to keep an unblinking eye on employees as long as they disclose they’re doing it.

Software Allows Drones to Monitor Social Distancing, Face Masks

A California startup company that makes drones released new software for monitoring social distancing and face-mask wearing from the air.

This system followed an earlier move that applied artificial intelligence and machine learning to the camera footage in Amazon’s buildings to help identify high traffic areas and guide additional measures to improve social distancing.

In implementing that earlier technology, Porter said his team “saw an opportunity to evolve our tech even further and promote social distancing behavior in real-time.”

There is increasing interest in extending technologies into work and public areas to gauge pandemic responses.

Employers say the cameras allow them to show not only workers and customers, but also insurers and regulators, that they are monitoring and enforcing safe practices..

Ford Motor Co. has been exploring the use of technology to monitor social distancing with wearables that buzz workers who are violating the safe distance rule.

Last week, Airspace Systems, a California startup company that makes drones that can hunt down and capture other drones, released new software for monitoring social distancing and face-mask wearing from the air. The software analyzes video streams captured by drones and can identify when people are standing close together or points where people gather in clusters. The software can detect when people are wearing masks. The system can also process video captured by ground-based cameras. Airspace aims to sell the system to cities and police departments.

Bloomberg has reported on some employers monitoring at-home workers, not for safety but for productivity, using spy software.

Amazon plans to deploy hundreds of its Distance Assistant units over the next few weeks. It said it will also open source the software and AI so that others can create their own Distance Assistant.

The giant online retailer has faced criticism from some employees and officials over some of its safety and labor practices during the pandemic.

In early April, Amazon terminated a critic of the company’s warehouse conditions in the pandemic, on grounds that he put others at risk by violating his paid quarantine when he joined a demonstration at Amazon’s Staten Island, New York, fulfillment center. Two weeks later, Amazon fired two other employees who criticized the working conditions, for what Amazon said was “repeatedly violating internal policies.”

Amazon’s French warehouses were closed for a period over complaints by union workers..

The company has responded to a surge in online orders during the pandemic, with most of its fulfillment centers remaining open. According to Bloomberg and media reports, more than 1,100 of its employees have been sickened by Covid-19 and nine have died.

Other safety measures Amazon has taken include distributing personal protective gear and masks for workers, instituting temperature checks and disinfectant spraying. The company said it is working on building scalable testing for coronavirus.

Photo: Distance Assistant, Amazon.

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