At Amazon, they're reimagining the workplace with a new kind of technology to help with social distancing.
It's called the Distance Assistant, and it will provide employees with live feedback on social distancing via a 50-inch monitor, a camera and a local computing device. Through this technology and its sensors, the company will be able to calculate the distance between people in the workspace.
"New technology is an important piece of reopening more safely, and I think what Amazon is doing with the Distance Assistant is a really nice example of it," said Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, director of energy studies in the buildings laboratory at the University of Oregon. "Behavior change is really difficult to overcome and to accomplish, and so anything that we can do with visual cues or other inputs to help make change and make it more meaningful for people I think is really important."
In a video filmed at an Amazon warehouse in Washington, where the Distance Assistant device is set up, employees are seen walking in high-traffic areas, past monitors with mounted cameras. As they walk past the cameras, a monitor displays live video to show if they are within 6 feet of one another -- which is indicated by green circles -- while those who are closer together are highlighted with red circles.
So far, Amazon has already installed these units in a handful of its buildings and has received positive employee feedback. They plan to deploy hundreds more in its facilities over the next few weeks.
"This kind of technology will be super useful in places like elevator lobbies and general lobby spaces or cafeterias where there'll be people moving in lots of different directions," Wymelenberg said. "It can give guidance to people to help keep that spatial distance."
While the Distance Assistant is unique, it isn't Amazon's first innovative approach to fighting COVID-19. Recently, the company tested out a UV light robot to disinfect a Whole Foods store, and they also used 3D printers to produce face shields for first responders.
The software for Distance Assistant will be free in the near future using an open source website, but Amazon has not set a specific date.
"This solution is just one of many ideas that have surfaced over the past few months," said Brad Porter, vice president and engineer leading Amazon’s robotics initiatives including robotic drive units, recent Canvas acquisition, the Scout delivery bot program and Prime Air drone delivery. "Knowing my colleagues and their drive, it will not be the last. Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our employees, and we'll continue to innovate to keep them as safe as possible."