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Amazon Could Put Human Workers In Cages

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Amazon’s patent for human transport device is raising some eyebrows. The device pairs humans and machines, but in this case, the humans would be in cages.

In an illustration that accompanies the patent, which was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in 2016, show a cage-like enclosure around a small work space that sits on top of a robotic trolley system that drive racks of shelves around Amazon warehouses.

The patent application shows the purpose of the cage is not so much to confine workers as it is to keep them safe while on the floor, surrounded by 750lb robots topped with shelves that scoot around an area that could hurt or potentially kill workers.

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If any unauthorized human were to stray into one of these robot-only zones, the company says that an alarm will rigger and all of the devices are designed to automatically shut down to avoid colliding with the person.

“Traversing an active workspace of automated mobile drive units poses safety concerns for the human operators who traverse the active workspace,” according to the patent application.

Think of it like cage diving with sharks, only the sharks are industrial Amazon robots

The patent was referred to as “an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines” by researchers who highlighted it in a study published on Friday, “Anatomy of an AI System.”

The study was published by the AI Now Institute and Share Lab-and has already upset the executive in charge of Amazon’s distribution system, who says the cage concept was never used.

The 7,300-word essay written by Kate Crawford, principal researcher at Microsoft Research as well as co-director and co-founder of New York University’s AI Now Institute; and Vladan Joler, director of the Share Foundation and a professor at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia.

“At every level, contemporary technology is deeply rooted in and running on the exploitation of human bodies,” the authors wrote.

The Amazon patent for a human transport device, sought in 2013, and published in 2016, got everyone’s attention. Amazon’s inventors said the device was designed to keep workers safe if they found themselves in a position where they had to cross paths with warehouse robots that could potentially pose an injury hazard.

The device would allow workers “to traverse an active workspace in a minimally intrusive manner while maintaining safety of the user while he/she is within the active workspace,” they said.

Joler and Crawford, saw the patent as  “an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines.”

“It depicts a metal cage intended for the worker, equipped with different cybernetic add-ons, that can be moved through a warehouse by the same motorized system that shifts shelves filled with merchandise,” they wrote. “Here, the worker becomes a part of a machinic ballet, held upright in a cage which dictates and constrains their movement.”

Once the Seattle Times published their article that focused specifically on this patent, Amazon pointed out that the concept was never brought to fruition–let alone implemented in any warehouse belonging to them.

Dave Clark (@davehclark), Senior Vice President of Operations at Amazon tweeted on Friday, “Sometimes even bad ideas get submitted for patents. This was never used and we have no plans for usage. We developed a far better solution which is a small vest associates can wear that cause all robotic drive units in their proximity to stop moving.”

This is not the only strange concept that Amazon hasn’t brought to fruition–yet. Check out this list of strange Amazon patent applications:

List via GeekWire.Com

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