Eyes are on Amazon staff in warehouses, and how they are treated, as Amazon patents two ideas which they expect will help warehouse staff in fulfilment centres find the goods they need to pick and pack more quickly. But the possible future devices are also being criticised as surveillance tags that spy on a worker’s every move.
In one of the patents, Amazon lays out the intention of the concept of the wristband and, rather concentrating on surveillance, it is rather explained as a labour saving device:
“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 bid, 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 idea is that the wristbands will be able to emit ultrasonic sound pulses or radio transmissions to let a receiver system get a location on where the warehouse staff members’ hands are, in relation to inventory in storage.
More than that, the devices are understood to be able to vibrate. So as the staff members’ hands move around the shelves, the vibrations become more intense as they get closer to the merchandise they should be picking.
Amazon patents dozens of speculative ideas and devices every year and it’s by no means certain that this wristband device will ever be anything more than a concept, let alone put into everyday use. Not least because there is also an obvious aspect of the patents that is rather sinister. But such devices may never come to be used. So we shall see. And if you are an Amazon employee who is forced to use one, please do let us know.