A patent Amazon has received would pair humans and machines. In this case, the humans would be in a cage.
Illustrations that accompany the patent, which was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in 2016, show a cage-like enclosure around a small work space sitting atop the kind of robotic trolleys that now drive racks of shelves around Amazon warehouses.
The patent was called “an extraordinary illustration of worker alienation, a stark moment in the relationship between humans and machines” by researchers who highlighted it in a study published Friday.
Amazon says it never implemented the technology and has no plans to, but the design appeared to be an effort to allow humans to safely enter robot-only zones in Amazon’s highly-automated depots to make repairs or pick up dropped objects.
In an Amazon facility in Kent, for example, 750-pound robots topped with shelves scoot around an area surrounded by high chain-link fences, bringing merchandise like iPhone cases and coffee mugs to waiting employees who place or retrieve items from windows built into the fence.