Amazon gives warehouse workers vests to protect them from robots

Many people have feared a so-called “robot uprising.” With more and more automated machines working in warehouses, factories, and homes, there’s no doubt that suspicion has waned in recent years. Or has it? Thanks to accidents like an Amazon robot hospitalizing dozens of workers by puncturing a can of bear repellent, extra safety precautions are being taken these days.

In reality, we probably won’t see an uprising of robots anytime soon (we’re looking at you, Cyberdyne). However, they can still pose a serious danger to those working alongside them. That’s why Amazon now has a creative solution for the workers in its factories: Robotic Tech Vests.

Back, Robots!

Amazon has over 100,000 robots working in its various warehouses. So, it only makes sense that they need to protect their employees from danger. Its latest solution may seem like something you might need to wear in a robo-pocalypse, but it’s actually a neat piece of tech.

The Robotic Tech Vest more closely replicates a tool-belt and suspenders. Regardless, it helps make workers “visible” to robots by emitting a signal that is detectable by the machines. Compared to the previous method of having to map out a specific section to work in before entering, employees now have a faster, safer way to operate.

“All of our robotic systems employ multiple safety systems ranging from training materials, to physical barriers to entry, to process controls, to on-board,” said Amazon Robotics VP Brad Porter.

However, this newest system helps keep workers safe during non-routine operations (such as during programming, maintenance, setup, or adjustment). According to OSHA, these times are the most likely for human/robot accidents to occur.

Are Robots Helping the Workplace?

Ironically, many companies have been developing collaborative robots, or “cobots,” that are designed to work with humans. Meanwhile, Amazon’s use of making the humans wear an extra piece of tech rather than designing special robots suggests that cobots may not be the most efficient way of automating a facility.

In fact, it seems that the warehouse of the future is being built with the needs of robots in mind, not humans. This, of course, begs the question: Are robots in the workplace a good thing or a bad thing?

Considering that humans will almost certainly be present in warehouse facilities, Amazon’s current steps to make their interactions with automated machines safer is a good one. Amazon has a lot of power when it comes to controlling the market and how things are done. It will be interesting to see if their implementation of the Robot Tech Vest spreads to other companies.

However, only time will tell how human safety and robot efficiency will come together in the industry of tomorrow.

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