Special Vests Prevent Robots From Colliding With Amazon Workers

Safety is paramount at most companies, and Amazon is no exception. To make sure their employees are protected, the online retail giant has developed a special vest for workers to wear at more than 25 of its sites. The robotic tech vest was designed to prevent robots from colliding with humans.

Resembling a pair of suspenders and an electronic utility belt, the wearable equipment is intended to keep employees safe when they enter an area to repair a robotic system or pick up a fallen item, reports TechCrunch. Sensors in the vest warn Amazon’s robotic system that a human is present, prompting the robots to slow down in order to avoid a collision.

The vest is intended to work in conjunction with the robots’ current obstacle avoidance system. The robotic systems have numerous safety systems in place, including on-board controls. Previously, Amazon employees would alert the robot traffic planner about the area in which they would be working. Now robots detect the humans wearing the vests from a much farther distance and are better able to steer away from them without requiring an associate to mark out the area, Amazon Robotics VP Brad Porter explained to TechCrunch.

Safety involving human and robotic interactions is no small thing. According to OSHA, many robot incidents happen during non-routine operations, often involving programming, maintenance, testing, setup and adjustment. “During many of these operations the worker may temporarily be within the robot’s working envelope where unintended operations could result in injuries,” OSHA notes.

Last month, two dozen Amazon employees at an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey were hospitalized when a robot inadvertently punctured a can of bear repellent. “The safety of our employees is always our top priority,” Rachael Lighty, a spokesperson for Amazon, said following the accident.

It wasn’t the first time such an incident occurred. A similar accident took place in Texas in 2015 after a robot ran over a can of bear repellent that a worker dropped.

As Amazon and other businesses start using more and more robots alongside humans, it’s essential that safety mechanisms are in place to prevent accidents that can be harmful and even deadly.

In November, the documentary The Truth About Killer Robots aired on HBO. It mentioned one incident in which a worker at a Volkswagen plant in Germany died after a robot arm pinned him against a wall and crushed his chest. The film also recalled when a self-driving Tesla hit a truck at 74 miles per hour while a man was inside the autonomous vehicle.

Robots can make people’s lives better, but they are not perfect. Amazon’s safety vests are a step in the right direction to provide employees with some added protection while they work alongside their mechanical colleagues.

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