In 2016, a research paper caused an uproar when it revealed that Amazon had patented a mobile cage for warehouse workers. Although the cage patent was withdrawn after overwhelmingly negative media attention, other Amazon innovations for workers reveal similar design principles, led by a desire for worker optimization.
This piece shows Amazon’s patents for wearable technologies designed for workers. These devices maximize efficiency and speed, while minimizing costs and reducing friction between humans and robots. Some of these innovations may come at the expense of working conditions in warehouses and fulfilment centers. The patents give us insight into how Amazon views human-robot interaction: as robots increasingly imitate humans, engineers and designers find ways to make human behavior increasingly automated. Inventions like these are also instrumental in the systems that enable Amazon’s same-day delivery and Amazon Go’s no-checkout technology. When we want our products quickly and cheaply, what are the consequences?