Amazon to use AI to enforce social distancing

Distance Assistant uses 50-inch monitor to encourage social distancing among employees

Amazon has announced the launch of an AI-based tracking system, Distance Assistant, to enforce social distancing within its offices and warehouses.

Amazon is using the system in hopes of reducing the risk of contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus among its employees. The unveiling of the AI-based system comes at a time when Amazon has faced scrutiny in the US over whether it’s done enough to protect its employees from the virus.

Distance Assistant was inspired by radar speed-check traffic signs and provides employees with real-time feedback on social distancing via a 50-inch monitor, a camera and a local computing device. 

Using both machine learning models and depth sensors, Distance Assistant can differentiate employees from their surroundings while also determining accurate distance measurements between employees.

According to Amazon, as employees walk by the camera, a monitor displays live video and visual overlays showing whether or not employees are within 6 feet of each other. While those 6 feet apart are highlighted with green circles, employees who are closer together are highlighted with red ones. 

“Our first Distance Assistant installations are now live at a handful of our buildings. We’ve heard that employees find value in getting immediate visual feedback, and site leaders are welcoming another safety measure,” read a blog post announcing Distance Assistant.

“Based on that positive employee feedback, we will be deploying hundreds of these units over the next few weeks. We are also beginning the process to open source the software and AI behind this innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant,” it continued.

Amazon previously faced backlash over its handling of the coronavirus within its warehouse facilities. Many employees accused the company of not providing them with the proper protections, leading many to contract the coronavirus.

Today, New York Attorney General Letitia James' office revealed it’s interviewed employees from several New York City-based Amazon facilities as part of a probe into Amazon’s overall response to the virus.

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