Amazon enforcing COVID-19 social distancing rules using artificial intelligence

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Posted on: June 16, 2020 6:58 pm EDT

Today announced the launch of an AI tracking system that will enforce social distancing rules in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The artificial intelligence technology, known as Distance Assistant, will be used at the company’s warehouses and corporate offices across the globe to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement comes after three Amazon warehouse workers in New York filed a lawsuit against Amazon, claiming that the company failed to sufficiently protect its workforce. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon created little more than a “facade of compliance,” effectively putting employees and their families at risk. Amazon has also faced criticism from legislators and unions, who have questioned whether the company is protecting its workforce despite recording a surge in revenue.

Amazon’s Distance Assistant was developed inhouse by the company’s engineering team and will help staff keep six feet apart from each other in order to meet WHO and CDC guidelines. Distance Assistant makes use of cameras, AI, and machine learning to alert workers who are less than six feet away from other people. The alerts appear on a highly-visible 50-inch monitor for the convenience of employees.

Although Amazon has only deployed a few Distance Assistants, the technology can be rolled out quickly as the units only require a single electrical outlet to operate.
In a blog post, Amazon Engineer and VP Brad Porter stated, ” Our first Distance Assistant installations are now live at a handful of our buildings. We’ve heard that employees find value in getting immediate visual feedback, and site leaders are welcoming another safety measure. Based on that positive employee feedback, we will be deploying hundreds of these units over the next few weeks. We are also beginning the process to open source the software and AI behind this innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant.”

Porter went on to remark, “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our employees and we’ll continue to innovate to keep them as safe as possible.”