Amazon patents wristband that tracks movements of warehouse staff

1 Feb 2018

Amazon warehouse in Bielany, Poland. Image: wawritto/Shutterstock

Amazon has been granted two patents for wristbands to monitor the movements of its employees.

Many Amazon customers rely on the e-commerce giant for its convenience and vast array of easily accessible products, but the people who fulfil the orders in warehouses owned by the company around the globe are often forgotten about.

It’s up to these employees to get the thousands of requests processed and sent on time, and now it looks like the company is looking into the possibility of monitoring workers’ movements with a physical device.

According to documents obtained by GeekWire, patents issued to Amazon cover bracelets that could emit radio transmissions or ultrasonic pulses to let a receiver system figure out where the staff’s hands are relative to the inventory bins they are close to.

This could see warehouse workers feeling a buzzing sensation when they put something in the incorrect place.

Monitoring workers for efficiency purposes?

The concept is touted within the patent documents as a labour-saving measure as opposed to something more surveillance-based.

“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, such as pushing a button associated with the inventory bin or scanning a barcode associated with the inventory bin.

“Accordingly, improved approaches for keeping track of where an inventory item is stored are of interest.”

The wristbands were proposed by Tye Brady, Amazon Robotics’ chief technologist.

No plans as of yet

Although the patents have been granted, Amazon has not announced any plans to manufacture the devices at present.

While the concept is being floated as a way to make the fulfilment process more efficient, the potential for workplace surveillance capabilities with systems such as this shouldn’t be ignored.

Amazon was in the spotlight earlier in the month when CEO Jeff Bezos was deemed the richest man in the world, while a study from Policy Matters Ohio in the US showed that more than 700 workers in the state receive food stamps, despite Amazon reportedly benefiting from millions of dollars worth of tax breaks there.

Amazon warehouse in Bielany, Poland. Image: wawritto/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects