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Amazon patents could enable worker monitoring via wristband


An Amazon.com worker sorting packages onto a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfilment centre in Tracy, California. Amazon has received patents for electronic systems that could enable warehouse monitoring through electronic pulses that guide employees by location. — AFP

An Amazon.com worker sorting packages onto a conveyor belt at an Amazon fulfilment centre in Tracy, California. Amazon has received patents for electronic systems that could enable warehouse monitoring through electronic pulses that guide employees by location. — AFP

SAN FRANCISCO: Amazon 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 “fulfilment centres” 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 may be used to monitor performance of assigned tasks,” according to one of the documents. 

“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 to AFP, Amazon said it files numerous patents on new technologies that may or may not be implemented. 

“The speculation about this patent is misguided,” the Amazon statement said. 

“Every day at companies around the world, employees use handheld scanners to check inventory and fulfil orders. This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfilment 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 labour 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 fuelled by technologies that help it speed shipments to enable deliveries in one or two days. It has invested heavily in automated technology and robotics. 

On Thursday, Amazon reported its quarterly profit doubled to US$1.9bil (RM7.40bil), compared with US$749mil (RM2.91bil) a year earlier. 

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.” — AFP

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