Lead Forensics

How is technology solving the challenge of social distancing in warehouses?

Online sales are rising and this creates a challenge for warehouses that need to process more orders, yet adhere to social distancing rules still in place.

E-retail giant Amazon is trialling Distance Assistants in a few of its warehouses. This system uses cameras that detect when workers are less than two metres from each other. When staff are at the correct distance, a green circle is drawn around them on a monitor. Any workers who are too close to each other are surrounded by a red circle.

Brad Porter, the engineer in charge of Amazon’s robotic programme, said:

“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.”

Amazon intends to make the artificial intelligence software of the system open source so that other companies can create their own Distance Assistants.

One-way systems help a warehouse picker with a heavy duty trolley keep a safe distance, but it is more difficult at packing stations with several workers next to each other at tables. Some large companies have introduced automatic packing systems, some of which can pack over a thousand orders an hour. These require fewer workers and the operators can easily remain two metes apart.

Alternatively, warehouses can purchase wider packing tables that enable packers to work at a safe distance either side of the table.

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