Amazon Patents Work-Monitoring Wristband

Last week, Amazon announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted it two patents for a wristband that can monitor its warehouse employees. They filed these patents in 2016, and they were granted on January 30, 2018.

How Does It Work

Image from Amazon via USPTO

This system includes ultrasonic devices placed around the warehouse, the wristbands worn by each employee, and a management module. The system emits ultrasonic pulses and radio transmissions to track where an employee’s hand is in relation to an inventory bin. If the employee is going to the wrong bin, “haptic feedback” or a vibration sent to the wristband will direct the employee to the correct bin.

Amazon claims this system was designed to increase efficiency, but some people have concerns that this is an attempt to turn Amazon’s workforce into “human robots.”

Concerns for Amazon Employees

Amazon has a reputation for working its employees hard, including timing them to make sure each employee packed enough boxes each hour. Allegedly the demands are so stringent that employees don’t have time to use the restroom out of fear that they won’t process enough items and be at risk of being fired for lack of productivity. If Amazon implements these wristbands in their fulfillment centers, workers may be expected to fill orders even faster.

Privacy Implications of Wide-Spread Use

“Big Brother” by Niv Singer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Amazon has not announced whether it plans to use this technology strictly in its facility or if they intend to manufacture and sell it to other companies. This could have a profound impact on the workplace if your boss knew every time you avoided work by chatting with co-workers or taking the long way back from the bathroom, and they could buzz your wrist to coax you back to your work station. These wristbands would definitely have a negative effect on employees who have hiding places at work where they sneak off to hide during their shift or who blatantly fall asleep on the clock.

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Post by social media attorney Ruth Carter.


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