Two U.S. patents issued to Amazon on Tuesday detail plans for buzzing wristbands that could trace every hand movement made by warehouse workers, according to published reports.
In an environment where every second counts, the bracelets will vibrate if the workers move their hands in the wrong direction, reports Geekwire, which first discovered the patents.
In an email to TheBlaze, a spokeswoman for Amazon said the news reports that include speculations about the patent are misinformed.
"The speculation about this patent is misguided," the email said. "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."
The email added that patents typically take years to get approved and "don't necessarily reflect current developments."
The company did not elaborate on when — or if — the technology would be implemented.
The Guardian explains the urgency associated with how Amazon orders are received and processed:
“When someone orders a product from Amazon, the details are transmitted to the handheld computers that all warehouse staff carry. Upon receiving the order details, the worker must rush to retrieve the product from one of many inventory bins on shelves, pack it into a delivery box and move on to the next assignment.
“The proposed wristbands would use ultrasonic tracking to identify the precise location of a worker’s hands as they retrieve items. One of the patents outlines a haptic feedback system that would vibrate against the wearer’s skin to point their hand in the right direction."
Patent documents describe the bracelets as a way to make operations more efficient and keep track of inventory items.
“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.”
That’s the company line. But critics see the technology as a potential way to micromanage and ride workers who are already being pushed to the limit.
“A less generous interpretation would be that the wristbands provide Amazon management with new workplace surveillance capabilities that can identify the workers wasting time scratching, fidgeting or dilly-dallying,” The Guardian noted.