+Comment Amazon has installed AI cameras inside its delivery vans to nitpick its drivers for, we're told, safety reasons.
The e-commerce behemoth has been slammed in the past for using all sorts of technology to keep close tabs on its workers sorting and handling goods at its warehouses. Now, it wants to keep a constant eye on those who set foot outside its so-called fulfillment centers.
In a seven-or-so-minute corporate video, Karolina Haraldsdottir, a senior manager at Amazon working on "last mile safety," said the internet giant was teaming up with Netradyne, an AI startup based in San Diego, to fit always-on cameras inside the vans.
“Delivering Amazon packages is one of the most important pieces to the Amazon customer experience,” she said.
“That is why at Amazon we are committed to keeping drivers and the communities in which they deliver safe. We’re always searching out for innovative ways to keep drivers safe. That is why we have partnered with Netradyne to help us make improvements to the driver’s experience.” The video was first spotted and reported by The Information.
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By that, Amazon means it will use cameras running machine-learning algorithms to detect things like when a driver is going too fast or looking at their phone instead of the road ahead. The cameras have four lenses, one facing the driver, another facing the road, and two on either side to provide 270 degrees of coverage. Netradyne’s software on the gizmos will look out for 16 types of behaviors, some more serious than others, and can make a noise to alert the driver that they're screwing up.
Some of these include failing to brake at a stop sign, or speeding. Other types of behaviors won't trigger audio alerts though are logged anyway. For example, if the driver isn’t wearing a seat belt or if the camera is obstructed. The system may also be used to spot package thieves and things like collisions with pedestrians and other vehicles. Drivers are encouraged to self-report instances of road rage or document when a drop-off point is closed or inaccessible.
Haraldsdottir said Netradyne’s device doesn’t record audio, and that Amazon can’t watch live footage from the cameras. The camera systems will be in use and recording 100 per cent of the time during delivery rounds by the machine-learning software, though.
CNBC reported that the technology has already been deployed in some Amazon-branded cargo vans, and may be rolled out further – and that Amazon isn't the only one doing this. For instance, UPS has in-truck cameras, too. Amazon contracts delivery firms to drop off its packages, and it's these vans that have, and more may have, the cameras fitted.
Sure, in The Register's opinion, we all want safer drivers, for Amazon's reps to obey traffic laws, and for packages to be delivered correctly and not go missing, and for pedestrians and other road users to go unharmed. This is fine, and on that level, Amazon's cameras are not a stretch, and maybe even welcomed. Yet it's so on-brand for Amazon to install totally reliable artificial intelligence in vehicles to constantly appraise and micromanage, silently or otherwise, workers, and report back to bosses. It doesn't exactly signal trust. Perhaps it was an obvious inevitability.
Don't forget: Amazon doesn’t exactly have a great reputation when it comes to looking out for its drivers. America's consumer watchdog, the FTC, just this week got the Jeff Bezos-built biz to cough up $61.7m to settle allegations it stole tips from its drivers for three years.
Netradyne declined to comment. Amazon told us: “We are investing in safety across our operations and recently started rolling out industry leading camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet. This technology will provide drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road.” ®