Amazon hopes the new vest will decrease collisions between warehouse robots and humans (Photo from Amazon)
With Amazon Warehouses employing more robots than humans you have to ensure the safety of all your workers, which the company hasn’t been so great about in the past. To improve safety measures, Amazon is using an electronic vest to protect those who deal with automated systems and robots inside its warehouses.
The Robotic Tech Vest may look like a pair of suspenders attached to a utility belt, but it has built-in sensors that alert Amazon’s robotic systems to the user’s presence. Once they sense that, the bots will slow down to avoid collisions. The vest is designed to work with the robot’s existing obstacle avoidance detection.
“All of our robotic systems employ multiple safety systems ranging from training materials, to physical barriers to entry, to process controls, to on-board,” Amazon Robotics VP Brad Porter told TechCrunch. “In the past, associates would mark out the grid of cells where they would be working in order to enable the robotic traffic planner to smartly route around that region. What the vest allows the robots to do is detect the human from farther away and smartly update its travel plan to steer clear without the need for the associate to explicitly mark out those zones.”
With recent accidents, it’s clear Amazon needs to increase their safety measures. Just last month a warehouse robot opened a can of bear repellent sending 24 workers to the hospital. More than 50 people in total were affected by the incident. Accidents like this on top of their questionable work conditions have shined a critical light on the retail giant, including the makers of South Park, who poked fun at the company in the episode “Unfulfilled,” where a worker gets trapped in an Amazon package while the company looks the other way.
According to reports, collaborative industrial robots help promote safer work environments. Many of them offer safety benefits to humans, such as preventing injuries or serious health effects caused by working in hazardous conditions. They can also minimize the chance for human error when it comes to tedious, repetitious jobs. But this doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes, some of which have proved fatal. In 2015, a robot crushed a man to death against a metal plate at a Volkswagen factory. Last year, the family of a repair technician blamed workplace robots for the death of the tech in an auto parts factory in Michigan.
Clearly, workplace accidents involving robots is still a big problem. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified 61 robot-related workplace deaths that took place between 1992 and 2015. And they think the problem is only going to get worse if guidelines and laws regarding workplace robots don’t improve. Luckily, NIOSH teamed up with OSHA and the Robotic Industries Association to improve awareness and update regulations regarding robot safety.
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