It's not like I said, “Alexa, order my prediction,” and it just showed up. After all, it took a far sight longer than the 7 hours it took them to deliver my last acquisition, but it appears online behemoth Amazon is about to deliver on technology that was the subject of my speculation four years ago. And of course, privacy rights people are predictably up in arms over it.
In 2014 I wrote an article called NFL Wearables Could Be the Personal Black Box for Workplace Accidents. It discussed a new program from the NFL that placed RFID tags within football players protective gear, not to improve player safety, but for the purpose of providing micro-stats to subscribers. The true NFL fanboy statistician would be able to know speed, direction, route and more of their favorite player during critical points in a game.
I have no idea if they were programmed to detect kneeling during the national anthem. Probably would've been a good idea.
I conjectured at that time that the burgeoning technology could in fact be used within the workplace to improve safety for employees. Not only could the devices alert employees to hazards in their immediate area, but accident investigators could use the data to help better determine what went wrong after an accident occurred. While that article was somewhat tongue in cheek, and I did not receive a Nobel or Pulitzer as I clearly deserved, I did think the underlying premise was sound.
And now Amazon is going to deliver on the concept. But I don't think they will put it on my back porch and take a picture of it (you have to be an Amazon Prime junkie to understand that reference).
Last month, Amazon was granted two patents for wristbands that are “intended to show an employee how to use his hands most efficiently.” Apparently the wristbands will buzz or vibrate to alert workers' that their arms could be in a better position to avoid injury. They could also stop the worker from making a mistake on the job, such as using the wrong equipment.
According to Geekwire, the patent application reads, “Existing approaches for keeping track of where inventory items are stored … may require the inventory system worker to perform time-consuming acts beyond placing the inventory item into an inventory bin and retrieving the inventory item from the inventory bid, such as pushing a button associated with the inventory bin or scanning a barcode associated with the inventory bin. … Accordingly, improved approaches for keeping track of where an inventory item is stored are of interest.”
It actually makes sense to me, but then again, I am a bit of a data nerd, and if my 2014 article is to be believed, a visionary nerd at that. Now if I could just wear two of the same colored socks at the same time, I'd be the complete package.
Predictably, not everyone is happy about the potential use of this technology in the workplace. The CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) are out in force on this one. A writer at Gizmodo said, “Amazon's new idea goes to extremes to treat employees like fleshy robots.” He followed that by saying, “I have seen the future, and it's just rows and rows of low-paid workers in endless warehouses being told to stop picking their noses. Or to get back from their bathroom break, as it were.”
That's ridiculous. No one would have to tell someone to stop picking their noses. The technology could be programmed to do that automatically, perhaps with the delivery of a mild electric “correction.” Think this through, people. Sheesh.
Come to think of it, I would deploy that system for food service workers in a heartbeat.
Amazon took note of the criticism, and issued a statement meant clarify the purpose of this effort. It said, in part:
“The speculation about this patent is misguided. Every day at companies around the world, employees use handheld scanners to check inventory and fulfill orders. This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates. By moving equipment to associates' wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens.”
Despite those assurances, some aren't buying it. Another writer, from a “socialist newspaper,” who sees this as a potential area of abuse wrote, ““Even if Amazon's statement is taken at its word, under capitalism, labor-saving technology is rarely developed for the benefit of the workers using it. Under capitalism, the scientific and technological advancements made are being used to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of workers.”
I didn't know you could squeeze profit out of workers. Good thing they'll be able to monitor those bathroom breaks. I'd hate to see it squeezed out in the wrong places.
An article published by CNNpostulates that making employment decisions based on the collection of biometric data could potentially violate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act
I am not sure that tracking motion equates to collecting genetic information. But then again, I am easily amused by telling Alexa to turn my lights on and off, so what do I know. Besides, I asked Alexa, and she told me that there was nothing to worry about, and that I shouldn't believe anything the bad people say.
There are many stories floating around about what a miserable place Amazon is to work. If you believe everything that is said, the place sounds like its conference meetings resemble scenes from Mad Max Thunderdome. I have no idea, but I do know it is a great American tradition to attack whoever is on top of the heap. While I am sure Walmart would rather not struggle with this relatively new upstart competitor, they must be happy that they are no longer the scourge of the earth, dooming mankind and crushing human souls.
That is now the sole domain of Amazon, except they can do it with same day delivery, crushing our souls with more efficiency than any corporate juggernaut that ever came before it.
Nonetheless, it does appear that the “black box wearable” is going to be a reality at some point. It will be interesting to see if and when they actually employ the technology. Good thing I bought the domain name blackboxwearables.com. That sucker still might come in handy someday.
But in the meantime, I have to go. Alexa just told me it is time for me to shower and get to work. Strange, I've never heard her evil giggle before…
Editors Note: An earlier version of this story quoted direct verbiage from Bob's source article which appears to misquote Workplace Fairness Advisor Paula Brantner. It has been removed from the article We apologize for the misunderstanding.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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