New Vest Helps Amazon Workers Avoid Robot Collisions


Automation companies have made great strides over the years to ensure that any employees working alongside robots are able to do so safely.

But that doesn’t mean incidents don't occur, and Amazon, which famously employs millions of dollars worth of automated technology in its warehouses, recently made headlines when a robot accidentally punctured a can of bear repellant, sending dozens of workers to the hospital.

It’s Amazon then, of course, that has implemented a new safeguard to better protect workers who regularly interact with robots. TechCrunch is reporting that the e-commerce giant has rolled out its Robotic Tech Vest to more than 25 locations over the past year.

This new wearable looks like a belt attached to suspenders, and was apparently designed in-house by the Amazon robotics team. Its attached sensors help the robots identify any human entering their area for maintenance purposes or to retrieve a dropped object. TechCrunch says that the vest actually works to enhance the robot’s existing “obstacle avoidance detection” features.

But most notable is the fact that human employees will no longer have to manually mark out the areas in which they plan to work. Now, rather than the robot using that marking to avoid collisions, it's able to sense the vest from farther away and change course as needed. This cuts down on the prevalence of incidents in which a worker may temporarily be in a robot’s “working envelope,” as OSHA suggests that many workplace robot-related injuries occur when a worker is completing a non-routine activity, such as maintenance or programming.

Amazon Robotics VP Brad Porter told TechCrunch that, so far, tests of the vest have been “extremely successful,” so don’t be surprised if these vests begin to crop up as standard PPE for warehouse workers.

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