Amazon has faced criticism of late for how some of its employees are treated, particularly in its vast network of warehouses. Some reports claim that employees are constantly under surveillance, and subject to difficult productivity targets. Some analysts are now saying that its recent patent applications for augmented reality (AR) goggles designed specifically for employees will only make this situation worse.
The company has filed an application for AR goggles designed specifically for warehouse staff, with the title ‘Augmented Reality User Interface Facilitating Fulfillment’, which consists of AR glasses connected to a worn or carried computing device.
The AR goggles are designed to assist in the navigation of the often vast warehouses where Amazon stores its expansive product range, showing on-screen directions to the next product needing to be pulled off the shelves.
The goggles would be capable of tracking multiple variable, including ‘orientation data, pitch, yaw, [and] accelerometer data’ according to the patent filing information. As critics have pointed out, this potentially means Amazon would be able to track the walking speed, exact location and where employees are looking.
As reported by Gizmodo, the application also says: “In some embodiments […] the wearable computing device can be configured to provide worker instructions and/or visual indicators to a worker wearing the wearable computing device who is not moving.”
Critics have pointed this as evidence that Amazon are looking at even more intrusive ways of keeping tabs on its employees, and potentially even tougher targets. Though AR warehouse navigation technology has been in use by other businesses, most devices don’t offer the ability for real-time tracking as described in the Amazon patent filing.
As is usual with any patent, the filing does not necessarily mean that the devices are actually planned to be built or distributed, so it is difficult to say what plans Amazon has with regards to future use of AR technology as a whole.
For future coverage of new AR technology, keep checking back with VRFocus.
Update: Amazon have since provided a statement about the patent, defending it. “This patent application has nothing to do with surveilling employees. Technology has empowered and enabled workplaces throughout human history. Smart glasses and head up displays are already helping people in lots of ways – providing doctors with information to perform surgery,
drivers with information to help them drive safely, and athletes with information to achieve their goals. We are always thinking of ways that innovation can further improve the employee experience – such as this conceptual idea for augmented reality glasses that would free up fulfillment center associates’ hands from carrying the hand-held scanners commonly used in warehouses around the world to locate items for customers.”