Thursday, February 15, 2018 by Frances Bloomfield
Internet retail behemoth Amazon has been granted two patents for employee-tracking wristband system. Originally filed back in 2016, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published the patents on January 30 of this year.
The proposed system would be composed of three elements: a management module to oversee warehouse operations, ultrasonic devices planted around the vicinity, and the wristbands, which have been outfitted with ultrasonic units.
According to TheVerge.com, these ultrasonic units would be used to monitor the hand movements of warehouse workers handling inventory bins, with data on their hand positions being transmitted to Amazon in real time. Vibrations coming from the wristbands will guide workers’ hands to the right direction. If they move to the wrong item, then the wristbands will buzz.
If proven to work as intended, Amazon may implement this system into other aspects of their enterprise, such as in shipping.
Ever since the patents were revealed, Amazon has been on the receiving end of criticisms and cries about dehumanizing their employees. And rightfully so. As per the DailyMail.co.uk, this isn’t the first time that Amazon has come under fire for allegedly subjecting workers to inhuman conditions and impossible requirements. (Related: When Amazon warehouse workers complained of sore feet from walking too much, the company simply replaced them with 30,000 robots (and counting).)
Just last year, an undercover reporter spent five weeks in Amazon’s Tilbury warehouse in Essex, England. His time at the massive European packing plant allowed him to bear witness to employees suffering physical and emotional torment to meet the company’s demands. Some of these workers were so exhausted by the 55-hour work week that they’d resorted to sleeping while standing just to recover, even just a little.
“Those who could not keep up with the punishing targets faced the sack — and some who buckled under the strain had to be attended by ambulance crews,” he claimed.
Is Amazon attempting to take things further with these employee-monitoring wristbands? That could be the case, as the company has insisted that these devices are nothing more than labor-saving procedures to streamline logistics. Through these, Amazon hopes to avoid resorting to “computationally intensive and expensive” methods of overseeing their inventory. Although there’s no indication that employees will soon be sporting these wristbands, you just never know with this company.
And of course, Amazon has been quick to respond to these accusations. A spokesperson issued this statement to the DailyMail.co.uk and TheVerge.com: “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.
“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.”
Even then, is it really necessary to mull over taking a page from Orwell to boost productivity? Whole Foods has taken to using score cards to help employees know where they stand and how they can do their jobs better. Despite the stress this particular system has placed upon the shoulders of more sensitive employees, it’s still leagues better than tracking and controlling their hand movements. The former is sensible, the latter is just unnerving.
Stay up to date on the activities of Amazon and its subsidiaries by going to JeffBezosWatch.com.