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article imageAmazon wristband patent monitors employee movements in real time

By James Walker     Feb 2, 2018 in Technology
Amazon has patented a design for a smart wristband which could be used to identify warehouse workers and track their movements. The device was devised in 2016 and is presented as a way to help warehouse employees pick items more quickly.
The patents, spotted by GeekWire, were granted to Amazon this week after its original filing over a year ago. The concept sees warehouse staff allocated smart wristbands that communicate with control computers in real time. Ultrasonic signals are used for networking.
The wristband incorporates haptic feedback functionality to guide the wearer as they pick products. If the device detects the worker is reaching for the wrong item, it will buzz their wrist to notify them of the error. According to the patent, this could increase warehouse efficiency by cutting down time lost due to incorrect product picking.
"Existing approaches for keeping track of where inventory items are stored may require the inventory system worker to perform time consuming acts beyond placing the inventory item into an inventory bin and retrieving the inventory item from the inventory bin," explained Amazon. The patent description adds that improved inventory picking approaches are a matter "of interest" to warehouses.
Amazon smart wristband patent
Amazon smart wristband patent
Amazon/USPTO
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The technology's currently just a patent and there's no evidence Amazon's actively preparing to deploy the wristbands. If it did, it would be likely to face criticism for continually monitoring its employees. Given Amazon has already faced serious accusations of intolerable warehouse working conditions, a big brother-style smart wristband is unlikely to go down well.
Nonetheless, it's an interesting concept that explores how human staff could be made more efficient. Many within Silicon Valley expect warehouse operations to become increasingly automated, with robots likely to replace humans in roles such as regular picking and packing. Amazon's development of tech that aims to augment human capabilities shows machines aren't necessarily the answer, if technology works in tandem with humans.
The patent specifically highlights the simplicity of the wristband compared to more "intensive and expensive" solutions, such as computer vision. Instead of a costly machine learning-powered setup, the wristband identifies its location through a set of triangulation sensors. Software then matches the worker's position with the inventory item they're looking for, using the inventory details to assist the employee in finding the product.
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