Amazon patents wristbands to track workers' movements

Amazon patents could enable worker monitoring via wristband

As Amazon scouts for its second headquarters and continues to expand its workforce beyond a half a million people, the country's second-largest employer must continue to find ways to become more efficient.

Amazon this week has been issued two patents for a bracelet that can track the movements of a warehouse worker's hands in real time.

The patents involve ultrasonic bracelets that can detect the position of a worker's hands in relation to inventory bins, and a haptic feedback system that signals if they have the right bin to retrieve an item. No matter how small or inconspicuous, a mandatory bracelet that tracks your every move still sounds horrifying.

The patent was originally filed in 2016.

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Computer vision-based systems could be used in a similar way to track inventory items, but that option would likely be "computationally intensive and expensive", the patent notes.

Critics say such wristbands raise concerns about privacy and would add a new layer of surveillance to the workplace, and that the use of the devices could result in employees being treated more like robots than human beings. Pediatric nurses at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center are required to wear electronic locators that monitor every step. Tracking devices are already used among security guards, casinos, restaurant workers, and miners.

The goal wristband is to make the search and tracking of the product stored in Amazon stores even shorter. Using sensors, motion detectors and built-in microphones, the badge can measure the speech patterns, tone, and posture within face-to-face interactions to help employers' evaluate employees' performance and productivity. It's not clear if the company has any intentions to create and deploy the devices. There's no federal privacy law to keep businesses from tracking their employees with Global Positioning System. Amazon seems very keen on the concept, having applied for a patent to keep very close tabs on its workers. Amazon has been accused of pressuring workers to do rigorous, physically demanding tasks and working long hours.

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