Amazon worker vests let robots know when to slow down

Amazon has supplied its warehouse workers with safety vests that let nearby robots know when they need to slow down. The wearable was designed by Amazon Robotics and is intended to keep warehouse workers safe when they must enter a space where robots roam. Between sensors in the vests and the robots' obstacle avoidance tech, the machines are better able to avoid collisions.

Simply called the Robotic Tech Vest, the wearable enables workers to enter an area where the robots operate — to repair one robot, for example — without marking their spot on the floor so that the robots know where to avoid. Instead, the vest serves as a type of alert making the worker's presence known to nearby machines without explicitly marking out the space on the floor.

When a human wearing the vest is present, the robots are able to update their route to avoid the space. The vests were rolled out to warehouse workers throughout last year, building upon the company's various other safety-related technologies.

Robots have a prominent position within Amazon's warehouses, something that is unlikely to change in the future. According to a report from October 2018, Amazon is developing "picking robots" designed to grab items from shelves and put them in bins to be packaged. Commenting on that report, Amazon Robotics had stated that the technology isn't sophisticated enough to replace human workers at this point in time.

Instead, Amazon envisions the robots as a companion to human fulfillment center workers, picking up duties to take the load off humans who could focus on other tasks. Many potential situations are still beyond the technology's ability to handle, such as noticing if a retrieved product is leaking and sorting through the vast variety of items Amazon stocks.