A Slap on the Wrist
Amazon has received two patents for a wristband system that monitors how warehouse workers move their hands.
Currently, when a product order is received, the details are transmitted to the handheld computers that all Amazon warehouse staff carry. The workers must then rush to retrieve that product from one of many inventory bins on shelves, pack it in a delivery box, and move on to the next assignment.
Amazon’s proposed wristbands would emit ultrasonic sonic pulses or radio transmissions to let a receiver system pinpoint the location of workers’ hands in relation to inventory bins, and nudge them in the right direction, according to GeekWire.
The announcement has led to some negative feedback likening the wristbands to turning workers into human robots, or surveilling them to identify time-wasting activities.
However, "The speculation about this patent is misguided," Amazon said in an email to The Verge. "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," Amazon said.
To date, this is just a patent filing, so there’s no indication that using haptic feedback to guide workers’ hands to the right place is the answer to improved productivity.