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Amazon try AI to Maintain Social Distancing

The delivery giant is looking at technology to keep its logistic facilities Corona-free

As the world tries to pick up the threads of life beyond the pandemic, social distancing at workplace has become a burning issue that every organisation will have to address sooner or later. And the larger the organisation, more complex will it be to spread out a big workforce within existing facilities and keep operations normal. Let alone enforcing, even monitoring compliance can be a real challenge when the numbers are large. Amazon is innovating tools that can help maintain workplace safety and has come up with an AI-based solution that warns managers if social distancing norms are broken within their premises.

Named “Proxemis”, the AI system captures images through surveillance cameras on Amazon premises. Any breach in distancing regulations is automatically flagged to appropriate authorities. The cameras keep on generating footage periodically but analyses only those that show people in them. The rest is deleted immediately. For images with people, the algorithm has been trained to estimate the distance between them by comparing the size of the human images on screen and the number of pixels that are keeping them apart.

This is indeed an innovative method, required because surveillance cameras essentially lack distance-measuring capabilities. All images with people are directly sent to human scrutinizers after the algorithm appropriately blurs them to protect individual privacy. The scrutinizers notify the building manager wherever a lack of social distancing is noted in the images.

Additionally, there is an embedded quick-response mechanism in Proxemis that directly alerts managers if a gathering of 15 or more is on camera. Occasionally, this may result from a bottleneck at entry or exit points, where slow checking may result in a pile-up. The system-generated alert helps in swift redressal.

Proxemis is developed by the robotics division of Amazon and operational in over 1000 facilities all over the globe since March this year. The company admits that AI has been instrumental in rapidly identifying locations where infrastructural redesigning was necessary. It has also acted as a deterrence on employees, inducing them to follow regulations.

Indeed, for a delivery giant like Amazon, the COVID-19 situation has become a double-edged sword. While online orders are pouring in from customers under lockdown restrictions, this spike in business means their warehouses and logistic centres need to work with full employee-strength. Social distancing at their facilities are, therefore, difficult to maintain. As a quick-fix, Amazon is relying more and more on technology.

With Proxemis already in use, other distancing aids are being developed by Amazon too. For instance, an AR-based distance assistant that displays real-life distances of people within its range on a large monitor. A green circle with 6-foot diameter is superimposed around each human image on screen as they move about. If, in the course of movement, any two circles touch, the offending circles turn red on screen – alerting people to an episode of violation.

Other technology that Amazon is exploring includes wearables with sensors that will warn wearers if two of them breach the safety distance. This device works on Bluetooth, but Amazon is trying to introduce a more refined version based on ultra-wideband radio technology. Apparently, ultra-wideband is way more accurate and efficient than Bluetooth. However, its use is limited yet.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO, is often known to say: “Good intentions don’t work, but mechanisms do.” No wonder Amazon is relying more on mechanisms to maintain a safe distance.

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