Amazon introduces ‘Distance Assistant’

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Update: We are excited to open source the software and AI behind this innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant. Individuals and businesses large and small can download the package at no cost and get up and running with just a computer and camera.

At Amazon, we’re constantly innovating to support our employees, customers, and communities as effectively as possible. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many of our talented engineers rallied to support the health and safety of our associates working to get customers the products they needed. As we reimagined workstations and implemented new processes across our facilities, our engineering teams looked for ways to help maintain social distance. One early solution we developed applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to the camera footage in our buildings to help site leaders identify high traffic areas and implement additional measures to improve social distancing.

As we’ve continued to learn and innovate to support the health and safety of our associates, we also saw an opportunity to evolve our tech even further and promote social distancing behavior in real-time. Given social distancing isn’t always natural, this team set out to use augmented reality to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps associates see their physical distancing from others. Working backwards from a concept of immediate visual feedback, and inspired by existing examples like radar speed check signs, our ‘Distance Assistant’ provides employees with live feedback on social distancing via a 50 inch monitor, a camera, and a local computing device. The standalone unit uses machine learning models to differentiate people from their surroundings. Combined with depth sensors, it creates an accurate distance measurement between associates.

Amazon introduces “Distance Assistant”

As people walk past the camera, a monitor displays live video with visual overlays to show if associates are within 6 feet of one another. Individuals remaining 6 feet apart are highlighted with green circles, while those who are closer together are highlighted with red circles. The on-screen indicators are designed to remind and encourage associates to maintain appropriate distance from others. The self-contained device requires only a standard electrical outlet, and can be quickly deployed to building entrances and other high-visibility areas.

Our first Distance Assistant installations are now live at a handful of our buildings. We’ve heard that employees find value in getting immediate visual feedback, and site leaders are welcoming another safety measure. Based on that positive employee feedback, we will be deploying hundreds of these units over the next few weeks. We are also beginning the process to open source the software and AI behind this innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant.

This solution is just one of many ideas that have surfaced over the past few months. Knowing my colleagues and their drive, it will not be the last. Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our employees and we’ll continue to innovate to keep them as safe as possible.

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