Amazon’s Tracking Wristband: 1984 Re-Visited or Enhanced Productivity?
By Floriane Charles
At the end of January of this year, announcements of Amazon’s new patent for a tracking wristband started coming out. This new wearable technology would allow for warehouse workers’ hands to be tracked and receive a signal in the form of haptic feedback to let them know if said hand is in the wrong or right place. According to Amazon, the goal here is to improve speed and productivity: the wristband allows to free up the worker’s hands of scanners and bypass the need to look at computers for inventory tracking purposes. It also would eliminate room for human error as the worker would be alerted of the possible mistake.
Seeing as this retail giant relies heavily on speedy deliveries for their clients, reducing room for error (which would otherwise slow down the process) is critical. The creators state that this system also avoids the intensive and costly computer monitoring that is otherwise needed. So far, this system sounds like it would indeed enhance productivity and provide a better service to the clients who expect fast, error-less deliveries.
How Does it Work?
The system uses a triangulation process to locate the worker’s hand, after which it uses software to match the location of the hand with the location of the item that is supposed to be processed, thus knowing if the item being processed is correct. Step by step, once a customer places an order through Amazon, the details are transmitted to the handheld computers carried by all workers, and after receiving the order, the worker tries to retrieve the product from the warehouse’s inventory as fast as possible in order to pack it into a box and pass it on to the next assignment.
This new wearable does add another layer of vigilance to the workplace, and a large part of the public, specifically the workers, disagree with the idea. Even unintentionally, the wristband would be collecting a lot of information about them: how often do they go to the restroom and at which time(s) of the day, how often they take breaks and for how long, how slow they are doing their work, etc. And while it is fair and legal to fire an employee for working slower than the required and known work standards, it might not necessarily be so if the decision is based on this somewhat stolen information. Given that Amazon already has a poor reputation for their working environment, and that there have been complaints about low pay for high demand work, unrealistically high standards for goals, strictly enforced rules, short breaks, and overall low morale, this indeed may not be the best idea. While the concept of increasing productivity sounds good, it becomes a bit different when the way productivity is trying to be increased is through speed, especially when there have already been so many complaints about the time allocated to workers for task completion. Some reports have stated that the workers had to process a parcel every 30 seconds, a goal that seems rather unrealistic, and seemingly almost impossible to shorten. A wearable technology whose goal is to enforce this does not sound like a positive change for Amazon employees, and rather sounds like Amazon is trying to turn their workers into robots as much as possible before finally being able to use real ones.
A Message From Amazon:
After learning of the controversy which was starting to spread, Amazon came out with the following statement:
“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.”
As previously mentioned, the idea of freeing a worker’s hand from scanners and reducing mistakes is central. However, when considering the complaints that have been lodged against the company, it does not necessarily seem like a good idea to implement this new technology. Fortunately, it is not yet official that this device will make its debut. While the patent has been filed and granted, it is not certain that Amazon will follow through and implement the wristband in their warehouses.