Amazon’s Buried Patent: Humans in Cages Riding Robots Around Warehouses
Amazon successfully patented a design for humans to work alongside robots in Amazon warehouses, though they are unlikely to ever actually implement the novel idea.
The 2016 patent has humans sit inside of a metal cage placed on top of a robot that navigates Amazon warehouses to get work done within a restricted area. Though the patent was approved, it is yet to be implemented in Amazon facilities, and the retail giant says it has no plans of doing so.
Robots would have carried humans to work zones for repairs and retrievals
In a recently published study, researchers said the technology patent depicts “worker alienation” and the intersection between human and machine relationships. The illustrated design of the patent seems to suggest the contraption is meant for use by humans in automated depots where only robots can function.
To this extent, robots and machines might facilitate the access of humans into areas where technical repairs are needed, or where items require retrieval. This idea is all the more tenable considering that in an Amazon facility in Kent, 750-pound robots bearing shelves move around the facility to supply iPhone cases and coffee mugs to employees who appropriate them as necessary.
Amazon stated that in a case where an unauthorized person strays into a robot-only zone, an alarm goes off and robots immediately shut down to prevent collision with humans.
Lindsay Campbell, an Amazon spokeswoman, said any speculation that the company aims to implement the technology was misguided misinformation. She says Amazon, like many other companies, file patent applications that are forward-looking, without necessarily implementing them after patents are approved. She clarified that the company frequently comes up with numerous patents because employees are encouraged to experiment and invent future technologies.
Amazon executives say the patent approval is as far as the idea will go
Amazon Senior Vice President of Operations Dave Clark assures the public that the company does not intend to use the contraption now, or ever. This further lends weight to Campbell’s statement that the latest patent would not be implemented in any way.
In a published research study titled “Anatomy of an AI System,” Kate Crawford, Co-Founder of the AI Now Institute at New York University, along with Vladan Joler, a professor in the New Media Department at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia, referenced the patent:
“[The patent] 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. Here, the worker becomes a part of a machinic ballet, held upright in a cage which dictates and constrains their movement.”
Is there a border between human and robot collaboration that shouldn’t be crossed? Leave your thoughts in the comments!