Amazon has launched a new AI-based tracking system at its offices and warehouses in an effort to enforce social distancing among employees.
The new system, called Distance Assistant, uses cameras and monitors to highlight workers keeping a safe distance in green circles while those who are too close to one another are highlighted in red circles.
Vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon's robotics division, Brad Porter explained how the team came up with the idea in a blog post, saying:
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“Given social distancing isn’t always natural, this team set out to use augmented reality to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps associates see their physical distancing from others. Working backwards from a concept of immediate visual feedback, and inspired by existing examples like radar speed check signs, our 'Distance Assistant' provides employees with live feedback on social distancing via a 50 inch monitor, a camera, and a local computing device. The standalone unit uses machine learning models to differentiate people from their surroundings. Combined with depth sensors, it creates an accurate distance measurement between associates.”
Amazon has already set up Distance Assistant installations at a handful of its buildings though it plans to deploy hundreds more over the next few weeks.
The company has also begun the process of open sourcing the software and AI behind its system so that other businesses and organizations can create their own Distance Assistant installations. While Amazon is currently using the system in its offices and warehouses, retail businesses beginning to open their stores to the public could also deploy it to help shoppers maintain social distancing.
Accord to an internal memo seen by Reuters, Amazon is also testing a wearable device for workers that lights up and emits an audio alert when they are too close to each other. This device is currently being tested at a warehouse outside Seattle and if successful, could find its way into the company's facilities as well.
Distance Assistant is a clever use of AI and machine learning that could end up being crucial to businesses trying to reopen as installing the system in their stores would show workers, customers and even insurers that they are actively monitoring and enforcing safe practices.