Amazon has been granted patents for wristbands that would allow for “ultrasonic tracking of a worker’s hands” to monitor performance using “haptic feedback,” which sounds like something straight out of Black Mirror.
The new patents, first spotted by GeekWire, are ostensibly for wristbands that Amazon employees would wear, which work in conjunction with ultrasonic devices strategically placed around Amazon’s warehouses. If the worker’s hands move to the wrong item, the bracelet will buzz, pretty much like an invisible fence used for dog training. Not only do the tracking devices monitor inventory, but they also make sure workers are performing at optimum speed. It’s all to ensure that Amazon Prime customers get their paper towels and Ayn Rand paperbacks as quickly as possible.
The original patents were filed back in 2016 and granted to Amazon on January 30 of this year. Clearly this isn’t a good look for Amazon, which has already been accused of intolerable working conditions at its warehouses, including enforcing timed bathroom breaks and using packing timers to make sure workers were operating at top speed. Many patents never actually become reality, so let’s hope Amazon filed this one just to ensure these devices never never do either.
Update: Amazon has commented on the patent filing:
“The speculation about this patent is misguided. Every day at companies around the world, employees use handheld scanners to check inventory and fulfill orders. This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates. By moving equipment to associates’ wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens. We believe Amazon’s fulfillment center jobs are excellent jobs providing a great place to learn skills to start and further develop a career. Like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazon employee and we measure actual performance against those expectations, and they are not designed to track employees or limit their abilities to take breaks.”