By Sahid Fawaz
Jeff Bezos is now the richest person in the history of the planet. But that's not enough for him. He wants to squeeze every cent out of Amazon's workers, even if that means tracking their hand movement.
"The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted Amazon two patents for wristbands that could track the exact location of warehouse workers' hands — and give workers tactile feedback to help guide them to a specific shelf.
The wristband and receiver system, as shown above in a diagram from the patent application, would rely on radio frequencies or ultrasonic pulses to monitor the device's specific location. They would use haptic feedback — a tactile sensation, akin to how a smartphone will give feedback to a user through touch — to alert a worker that they are in the wrong location, or guide them to the right one.
The retail giant applied for the two patents in 2016; the applications were first published in September. The patents were granted on Tuesday.
On Friday, Amazon sent NPR a comment that called speculation about the patent 'misguided.'
'This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates,' the company says. 'By moving equipment to associates' wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens.'
It's not clear whether the patented devices will, in fact, be rolled out in the field.
The system calls for a shelf with products in specific locations, or "inventory bins," a bracelet or wristband worn by the worker, and either an ultrasonic or radio-based tracking system.
The system, by monitoring precise hand movements, could identify whether the worker picks up an item from the bin instructed, or places it in the right location.
It could also communicate information back to the worker.
A 'a guidance signal' could be sent to the bracelet, for instance, 'indicating one or more directions in which the worker 14 should move the worker's respective hand,' one of the patent descriptions states. The number 14 is meant to identify the human worker labeled on the diagram (see above), as separate from the other numbered components of the system, like the bracelet, the monitoring system and the bins themselves.
'The ultrasonic unit 12 can be configured to control a suitable communication means (e.g., indicator LEDs, a suitable display screen, and/or a haptic feedback mechanism) to communicate to the worker,' the document continues."
For the rest of the story, check out the full piece at NPR here.