In Brief

Amazon creates ‘anti-robot vests’ to protect workers from droid collisions

Hi-tech system is introduced a month after 24 workers are injured at one of the firm’s warehouses in the US

Amazon has developed a new hi-tech safety vest for its employees in a bid to reduce robot-related injuries at its warehouses. 

The Robotic Tech Vest (RTV) has been specially designed to make the online retail giant’s workers more visible to the firm’s 100,000-strong army of robots.

The “anti-robot vests”, which resemble utility belts, are equipped with sensors that send alerts to the robots when a human is in the vicinity, says The Daily Telegraph.

Amazon’s robots operate in cordoned-off areas where they pick and pack shelves of goods, says The Verge. But some staff are required to enter these areas if a droid breaks down or if an item is accidentally dropped.

According to the US Department of Labor, most accidents involving humans and robots occur during “non-routine operating conditions”, such as machine maintenance or when a staff member retrieves a hazardous item from the robot’s operating area. 

Twenty four workers at Amazon’s New Jersey warehouse were hospitalised last month after a robot ran over and ruptured an aerosol can of bear repellent that had strayed into its operating area.

The new vests, which are designed for droid-only areas, are aimed at helping workers carry out maintenance and collect fallen items more safely.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Brad Porter, vice president of Amazon Robotics, said the RTVs would help the robot detect a human from far away and “smartly update its travel plan to steer clear”. 

Amazon has begun distributing its RTVs to workers in more than 25 of its facilities and says the vests are a resounding success. 

The robots have already amassed more than one million “unique activations” – where the droid is alerted to a human in its vicinity – since the RTVs were first rolled out last year, says Porter.

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