Amazon uses augmented reality to spy on its staff to ensure social distancing

Amazon has previously admitted to policing its workers. Now it’s using AR to make sure they maintain WHO-sanctioned social distancing at all times inside its warehouses
On Tuesday, Amazon’s vice president and chief roboticist Brad Porter unveiled a new augmented reality (AR) system called Distance Assistant.

Distance Assistant works by using machine-learning to differentiate people from their environment. “Combined with depth sensors, it creates an accurate distance measurement between associates,” Porter said in a blog post.

The assistant, Porter explained, was already installed in several of Amazon’s ‘fulfilment centres’ – the name the company gives its warehouses, and is due to be rolled out to hundreds more.

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As workers walk past the camera, a 127cm (50in) monitor displays their image overlaid with circles to indicate if they’re social distancing. The feedback is immediate, with those correctly distanced by 1.82m (6ft) surrounded by a green circle, and those too close ringed with a red one.

It’s not currently clear what happens to workers who consistently break social distancing rules, and whether the visual cues are simply to remind workers of the risk at hand. In any case, Amazon is set to roll out the system across hundreds of its sites over the next few weeks, following positive feedback from testing.

Amazon has come under fire for spying on its workers in the past. In April, it was reported that it was using heat maps inside its Wholefoods stores to monitor its workers and make sure they were not gathering to unionize.

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It’s unlikely this will be the final iteration of snooping tech the retail giant will use on its own staff. Towards the end of his blog post, Porter says, “knowing my colleagues and their drive,” this “solution” will “not be the last.”

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