Amazon Distance Assistant heralds new, immersive-tech powered normal

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When the pandemic struck earlier this year, everything changed. Now, immersive tech-powered solutions are leading a return to some kind of normality, as Amazon and other recent examples show

Quick read

➨ Distance Assistant provides Amazon employees with live feedback on social distancing
➨ Amazon plans to open source the software and AI behind the innovation
➨ Immersive tech has proven to be particularly useful for businesses and workers attempting to get back to some kind of normal, as demonstrated by schools, businesses and developers alike

The story

Social distancing measures needed to ensure a safe return to work amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic aren’t proving difficult to implement at Amazon, whose Distance Assistant uses AR and AI to arm workers with real-time feedback as they navigate the internet company’s offices and warehouses.

Amazon revealed last week that its engineers had applied AI and machine learning to camera footage in its buildings to help site leaders identify high traffic areas and implement additional measures to improve social distancing.

Inspired by existing examples of immediate visual feedback such as radar speed check signs, the internet company took this application one step further and used AR to create a magic-mirror-like tool that helps associates see their physical distancing from others.

Distance Assistant provides Amazon employees with live feedback on social distancing via a 50-inch monitor, a camera, and a local computing device.

The standalone unit uses machine learning models to differentiate people from their surroundings. Combined with depth sensors, it creates an accurate distance measurement between Amazon employees.

As people walk past the camera, a monitor displays live video with visual overlays to show if Amazon employees are within six feet of one another. Individuals remaining six feet apart are highlighted with green circles, while those who are closer together are highlighted with red circles.

The on-screen indicators are designed to remind and encourage Amazon employees to maintain appropriate distance from others. The self-contained device requires only a standard electrical outlet, and can be quickly deployed to building entrances and other high-visibility areas.

Writing about Distance Assistant last week, Brad Porter, vice president and the engineer leading Amazon’s robotics initiatives, said: “Our first Distance Assistant installations are now live at a handful of our buildings. We’ve heard that employees find value in getting immediate visual feedback, and site leaders are welcoming another safety measure.”

“Based on that positive employee feedback, we will be deploying hundreds of these units over the next few weeks. We are also beginning the process to open source the software and AI behind this innovation so that anyone can create their own Distance Assistant.”

Immersive tech enables a new normal

Immersive tech has proven to be particularly useful for businesses and workers attempting to get back to some kind of normal, especially when the pandemic continues to be a serious threat around the world.

Yesterday, VRWorldTech revealed how not-for-profit funding provider Broward Education Foundation had teamed up with AR developer ImagineAR to create an immersive mobile experience for Broward County public school graduates who missed on a graduation party when their schools closed earlier this year.

And earlier in June, HTC Vive unveiled a cloud software solution combining tools for remote collaboration, productivity, events, socialising and cultural content called Vive XR Suite, which is designed to enhance working and living under social distancing measures in a Covid-19 world.

There are even immersive tech developers that have completely redesigned their businesses to not only survive the economic consequences of the pandemic, but thrive in the new normal.

In May, Location-based VR entertainment provider Spaces began offering its new VR video conferencing tool to users worldwide.

Spaces was forced to pivot into remote working at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The startup, co-founded by former Dreamworks executives Brad Herman and Shiraz Akmal in 2015, provided VR experiences for theme parks and retail locations around the world, including the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC, the Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles, Sega Joypolis in Japan and Songcheng Dreamland in China.

With lockdown measures in place globally, Spaces turned its core technology into an app that integrates VR into video conference solutions, such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and WebEx, all of which proved useful in helping many people work from home and maintain social distancing.

Spaces chose Digital River’s MyCommerce solution to quickly get its ecommerce operation up and running, after conducting a free beta trial.

Since then, Spaces has enjoyed significant growth, with users putting its app to the test in new and interesting ways.

Spaces chief technology officer and co-founder Brad Herman recently told Digital River: “It’s been extremely exciting to see the initial interest we’ve received in the app and the different ways it’s being used for business meetings, live events, classroom teaching and everyday entertainment.”

“The team at Digital River has jumped all in to help us accelerate the curve of user adoption and quickly grow the business.”

Immersive tech continues to find its place in existing and new workflows. With the pandemic likely to change how work and business are conducted for some time to come, VRWorldTech is keen to learn how you are using AR and VR to help customers, protect workers and acclimatise to this new normal.

Main image: Distance Assistant from Amazon