Amazon turns to warehouse cameras and AI to make sure workers socially distance

By Zlati Meyer

With so many people shopping online due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can imagine what the traffic is like at Amazon—both the products and the people packing them.

Now Amazon employees are getting some help to make sure they adhere to social-distancing rules, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning applied to good, old-fashioned video footage, the company announced today.

The Distance Assistant features a 50-inch monitor, which surrounds each person on camera with a green circle. If the individual walks within six feet of a coworker, both of their circles turn red. People can see themselves in real time and separate.

“Working backwards from a concept of immediate visual feedback, and inspired by existing examples like radar speed check signs, our ‘Distance Assistant’ provides employees with live feedback on social distancing,” Brad Porter, an Amazon vice president and engineer who leads the company’s robotics initiatives, wrote in a blog post.

Amazon said it will introduce hundreds of Distance Assistants in its buildings in the next few weeks and open-source the technology.

At least eight Amazon workers have died of COVID-19, and the company has faced criticism for the conditions inside its warehouses. In March, employees walked off the job to protest safety issues.


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