An Amazon patent put humans in cages and let robots roam free

[Image: courtesy of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]

Happy Monday. Here’s something absolutely terrifying: Amazon filed a patent in 2016 that would put humans in cages so they could safely ferry around robot-controlled work areas, reports the Seattle Times, citing a new report that highlighted the insane idea.

Essentially, the idea behind this patent was to make it safe for human employees to enter into places where large, scary robots are shuttling merchandise to and fro. Currently, these enormous Amazon facilities—which are manned, in part, by robots—have the areas containing the large, moving machines enclosed by chain-link fences. If an employee goes beyond the fenced-in barrier, the system is supposed to shut down, meaning the robots won’t move and/or crush the unauthorized human.

The patented system circumvents this entirely by simply putting the humans in cages, because of course that’s how Amazon thought to solve this problem. The cages would be atop “robotic trolleys that now drive racks of shelves around Amazon warehouses,” writes the Seattle Times.

The good news is that Amazon says it never planned to implement this system. A spokesperson told the newspaper that the reaction to this patent was “misguided,” adding that the company files many patents–many of which are never implemented. An Amazon employee who oversees operations took it further, tweeting that the patent “was never used and we have no plans for usage,” and admitted it was a bad idea.

Still, it’s at least a bit frightening that this got past the drawing board and into an actual patent application (that was approved!). It’s not great for the company, which been hit with numerous allegations of poor work conditions over the years. In 2016, it seems someone thought the way to improve this allegedly bad environment was to cage the workers.

On the bright side, at least Amazon is preparing for a way to protect humans when the robotic coup d’état happens–and not patenting better ways for the robots to win. Or maybe we just haven’t found that patent yet.

You can read the full Seattle Times post here.CGW