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Amazon’s machine-learning device keeps an eye on social distancing

Amazon is stepping up its social distancing efforts in warehouses through the use of a new machine-learning device that monitors employees’ social distancing behavior. 

The Distance Assistant uses a monitor and a camera to show employees in high traffic areas of Amazon’s warehouses how well they are doing at remaining six feet apart. Amazon announced the new device in a blog post on Tuesday. 

“As people walk past the camera, a monitor displays live video with visual overlays to show if associates are within 6 feet of one another. Individuals remaining 6 feet apart are highlighted with green circles, while those who are closer together are highlighted with red circles,” wrote Brad Porter, a vice president, and distinguished engineer at Amazon. “The on-screen indicators are designed to remind and encourage associates to maintain appropriate distance from others.”


The device consists of a monitor, a camera, and a local computing device that uses depth sensors and artificial intelligence to show employees a mirror-like image. 

Amazon said they plan to send hundreds of these Distance Assistants to more of its buildings in the coming weeks. There are also plans to open-source the Distance Assistant software so that other companies can benefit from the technology. 

Digital Trends reached out to Amazon to find out more. We will update this story when we hear back. 

Amazon has also taken to using thermal cameras to scan warehouse workers for fevers amid the coronavirus pandemic. While not nearly as accurate as a thermometer for detecting a fever, the system can still flag potential cases.

However, many of Amazon’s warehouse workers say the company isn’t doing enough to protect their health. Amazon’s warehouse workers have been deemed “essential workers,” meaning they must continue working despite widespread social distancing guidelines.

Three Amazon warehouse employees slapped Amazon with a lawsuit earlier this month, accusing the company of an inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit says that Amazon’s widely publicized efforts to improve warehouse safety conditions in response to the virus only “sought to create a facade of compliance,” while in reality, hazardous work practices continued.

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Allison Matyus
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Allison Matyus is a general news reporter at Digital Trends. She covers any and all tech news, including issues around social…
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