Amazon Distance Assistant is an AI secret weapon against COVID-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic came a new need to stay socially distant from other people. Self-isolating certainly helps in that regard, but Amazon kept its doors open during the pandemic, meaning its employees couldn't isolate themselves from the rest of the world. Instead, Amazon developed an AI that allowed employees to see if they were practicing social distancing at-a-glance.

The AI that Amazon created is appropriately called "Distance Assistant," and though it uses machine learning, the hardware that it requires seems pretty straightforward. The Distance Assistant uses a 50-inch monitor, a camera, and a local computing device to provide workers with an augmented reality "magic mirror" they can look at to make sure they're practicing social distancing correctly.

Here's how it works: the AI uses machine learning and depth sensors not only to differentiate workers from the environment around them, but also to tell the distance between them and their coworkers. On the live video feed that's displayed on the monitor, workers will see a green circle under their feet if they're six feet away from fellow employees. If they're less than six feet away, the circle turns red.

Amazon says that the Distance Assistant only requires a standard electrical outlet to work, which means that it can be quickly deployed to high-traffic areas within buildings. That, in turn, might help employees maintain a safe distance where they're most likely to be in close contact with one another.

Amazon says that it has already deployed the Distance Assistant in several of its buildings, with plans to deploy hundreds more units in the coming weeks. On top of that, Amazon will also open source the software and AI used in its Distance Assistant in the future so anyone can make their own.